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Schools get test results in writing

The writing skills of Hernando County students in grades four and eight improved this year, but the prose of 10th-graders grew worse, according to test results released Monday.

Overall, Hernando County's results were mixed.

A majority of the county's schools raised their scores. But those numbers still lagged behind a state average that's already far from approaching the works of Hemingway.

Hernando fourth-graders, for instance, raised their average half a point to 2.9 on a6-point scale. But even the state average, which is 3.0, is defined as work with errors in punctuation and capitalization, simple sentences that vary slightly, and underdeveloped ideas clogged with extraneous information.

Superintendent John Sanders said he was pleased with the improvement at the elementary and middle school levels. And he says he is hopeful that the 10th-graders will improve.

"It's hard to move upward any significant number of points in one year," Sanders said.

One school that showed a significant increase in scores was Brooksville Elementary, which improved from 1.8 to 2.8 _ the largest improvement of any school in the district.

"That is the best news you could ever give," said Brooksville principal Sue Stoops. "I've got chill bumps all over."

When Brooksville Elementary received its low score in 1997, Stoops said it felt like the school had been "kicked in the stomach."

But she sought help from the state education department, which sent people to give the teachers pointers. Teachers also instituted daily writing assignments. "It has been a total schoolwide effort," Stoops said.

Fourth grade

Leading the way among the elementary schools were Pine Grove Elementary (3.5) and J.D. Floyd Elementary (3.2) _ both scores were above the state average.

Fourth-graders at Deltona (3.0), Suncoast (3.0), Westside (2.8), Eastside (2.6) and Moton (2.6) each saw their scores improve. Spring Hill's scores held steady at 2.7.

Eighth grade

At the middle school level, where the state average was 3.3, Powell Middle scored 3.5, the highest of any middle school in Hernando County.

Fox Chapel, which has been open for a year, came in with a 3.1, just under the state average. Alternative students at Star Education Center, which has no testing baseline, scored 1.8.

The other two middle schools _ Parrott (3.1) and West Hernando (3.2) _ also improved their scores.

Tenth grade

The results were less encouraging at the high school level, where all three schools fell below the state average of 3.6 and the three-school average dropped to 3.4.

Springstead dipped two-tenths to 3.5 and Central dropped two-tenths to 3.3. Hernando improved to 3.5, up from a 3.1 last year.

Hernando Principal Elaine Sullivan was glad to see her school "heading in the right direction," something she attributes to weekly writing assignments in each class and a clearer understanding of the test among English teachers.

But she had no clear answer for why high school students struggle with writing.

Sullivan said one reason might be that high school students don't get the practice they need because many won't put pen to paper unless forced to do so at school.

"I wonder if they write only for a grade or for a subject but not just for the joy of it," Sullivan said.