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  1. Education

Student test scores tick upward in Florida

Published Jun. 11, 2016

TAMPA — Statewide scores on the Florida Standards Assessment showed modest gains this year, the Florida Department of Education said Friday as it released a large batch of results.

Closer to home, there were gains and losses in the Tampa Bay area. Pinellas math scores were up. Hillsborough students dropped a bit in English. And Pasco students scored lower in both math and English compared with 2015, the first year the revised system was in use.

The FSA, which is modeled on the national Common Core educational movement, replaced most of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test as the accountability measure that figures into everything from school grades to teacher evaluation scores.

Also released Friday were single-subject exam results for middle and high school students in math, science and social studies.

"Today's results show that our focus on improved student learning is working," Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart said in a news release. "Even with a higher bar, Florida students continued the overall trend of increased performance year over year."

In Pinellas County, math and English pass rates rose by one or two percentage points in most of the younger grades. English pass rates remained unchanged at 51 percent districtwide, but dropped in high school from 55 to 48 percent.

Graded on a scale of 1 through 5, a Level 3 score is considered proficient, or passing.

Hillsborough County, in a trend similar to Pinellas, saw a five-point drop in high school English pass rates, from 52 to 47 percent, while results in the younger grades held steady.

"Obviously, there is still room to grow," said Hillsborough assessment and accountability manager Nicole Binder, who said district officials will look more deeply into the high school English results to see what parts of the test were most challenging.

In Hillsborough, district leaders are preparing to address years of deficiencies at four elementary schools, two middle schools and a K-8 school where English pass rates this year ranged from 9 to 33 percent. In math, they were not much higher.

The two middle schools in the group Hillsborough is calling its Elevate schools, McLane and Sligh, showed mixed results in eighth-grade English and math.

McLane improved by a point in math but declined by six points in English while Sligh dropped three points in math and gained four in English. Districtwide, Hillsborough eighth-graders improved in both English and math.

Binder said there was ample cause for encouragement in Hillsborough, including scores for first-time takers of the geometry and Algebra 2 exams that were among the highest of like-sized and nearby districts.

Overall, she said, "The scores are stable."

Statewide, high school English pass rates dropped from 52 to 50 percent. All grades showed a pass rate of 52 percent, identical to 2015.

While the other local school districts showed both increases and decreases, Pasco County's scores dropped slightly all around.

As predicted by testing critics, this year's results confirm that the FSA exams are more challenging than the FCATs.

On the 10th-grade English exam, for example, 50 percent of students passed this year, down from 55 percent when the last FCAT was given in 2014. That exam is significant because passing it is a requirement for a high school diploma.

In Hillsborough's Leto High School, where a largely immigrant student population struggles with the 10th-grade English exam, 30 percent got a passing score.

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

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