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Reading in Hillsborough County: A closer look

[Times files]
[Times files]
Published May 28, 2018

TAMPA  — Think of this as a baseline as the Hillsborough County School District embarks on its third effort in as many years to provide equity to children in disadvantaged communities and low-performing schools.

Like the Priority and Elevate initiatives before it, Achievement Schools seeks to push resources where they are most needed so students of poverty, or who face instability at home, will not be left behind.

For a snapshot of what exists so far, the Tampa Bay Times examined this year's Florida Standards Assessment scores for third grade language arts. These numbers do not give a full picture, but can be viewed as a bell weather for others to come.

Among  the results:

Relative to the rest of the state, Hillsborough got worse, not better at teaching third graders how to read. The percentage statewide of students who tested at or above grade level dropped one point, from 58 to 57. In Hillsborough it dropped three points, from 56 to 53. (For comparison, Pinellas had an identical drop from 56 to 53 percent.)

Hillsborough still has a disproportionate number of students reading at the lowest level, Level 1, which means the child will need intervention to catch up enough to handle the next year's work. Twenty percent of the state's third graders read at Level 1. In Hillsborough, it was 23 percent.

A list of the lowest 300 reading schools will come later, and the Times did not attempt to create such a list.

But we did look at schools that the district vowed to give special attention under the Priority and Elevate initiatives; and those that the state earmarked for possible takeover by an outside operator in July.

In most cases, the percentages reading at grade level went down since last year. One exception was Mort, where an ambitious community school endeavor seems to be paying off. The Level 3-or-better percent at Mort rose from 29 in 2017 to 35 this year.

By contrast, Sulphur Springs K-8 — which was a Priority and an Elevate school, and had a much-publicized transition three years ago to the community school model — dropped by five points. Only 16 percent of Sulphur Springs' third graders were reading at or above grade level. Well over half – 58 percent – were at Level 1.

Finally: The numbers show how much disparity exists in reading outcomes, largely related to income. The percentages reading at grade level were very high at Bevis (90), FishHawk Creek , McKitrick, Westchase, Gorrie and McFarlane Park (all 84).  Charter schools Lutz Preparatory and Legacy Preparatory were also at the top of the list, with 90 and 88 percent proficiency rates.

At the other end of the scale were Village of Excellence, the charter school with only 4 students, or 8 percent, showing reading proficiency; and Just Elementary, the lowest of the district-run schools. Nine students in Just's third grade, or 14 percent, tested at Level 3 or higher.