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  1. Education

Students in Florida, Hillsborough show promising results on national 'report card'

TAMPA — Florida students outpaced their peers in math improvement, and Hillsborough County led a group of 27 urban school districts in the latest version of the measurement known as "the nation's report card."

Hillsborough school officials said Monday they are using the results to showcase their success, and they say the business community can do the same.

"It's always education," said superintendent Jeff Eakins. "And so this gives us a huge, huge win for the community and for economic development in the community."

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Hillsborough leaders consider the newly released results from the National Center for Education Statistics to be an accurate comparison of educational systems, despite structural differences between Hillsborough — a district that includes city and suburbs — and some of the others, which are more purely urban.

Poverty rates at some of the more urban districts such as Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia are as high as 85 percent when measured by participation in the free lunch program.

Hillsborough's rate is 63 percent. And the district is often compared to a group that includes San Diego, Charlotte-Mecklenberg, and Austin.

Hillsborough was at or near the top of the group nonetheless.

The district tied for first place nationally in fourth-grade reading and math. Eighth-graders tied for first place in reading and were in a group that tied for second place in math.

Charter school students were included, and the team that administered the test took care to include students in a wide variety of schools. Unlike state tests that measure every student, this test, called the National Assessment of Educational Progress, is given to a sampling of students.

"We are very, very diverse, so our sample is equally as diverse," said Nicole Binder, the district's director of assessment and accountability.

National results showed little change between 2015, the comparison year, and 2017. The only measurable improvement was in eighth-grade reading.

There was good news as well for Florida's performance as a whole.

Florida was one of the only states or territories to improve in math in both grades. Puerto Rico also improved in fourth grade math. Fourth graders in Florida outperformed students in other states for both reading and math.

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"Obviously, there is great teaching in the classrooms," Eakins said.

The results come as Hillsborough contends with budget challenges that are mirrored around the state and teachers who are disappointed over stalled contract negotiations. Some are leaving for better pay in other school systems, and Hillsborough is eliminating hundreds of teaching jobs to stabilize its operating budget.

"I think we face challenges every school year," Eakins said.

Despite those challenges, Hillsborough has seen its high school graduation rate increase by nearly 10 percentage points in the last three years, to 82.9 percent.

"A great teacher will get great results for our kids," Eakins said. "And our job is to support them."

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or Follow @marlenesokol.