Hillsborough holds its own in national ranking of urban school districts

In reading and math, the Hillsborough out-performs many big-city districts.
Hillsborough County students take part in a skills test that compares the district to 26 other urban districts. The results were released on Wednesday.
Hillsborough County students take part in a skills test that compares the district to 26 other urban districts. The results were released on Wednesday. [ MARLENE SOKOL | Times staff ]
Published Oct. 31, 2019|Updated Nov. 11, 2019

The results are out from this year’s Nation’s Report Card, including a special comparison of 27 urban school districts that includes Hillsborough County.

The verdict: Hillsborough fits neatly into a group of “above basic” districts, based on fourth and eighth grade tests in math and reading in the Trial Urban District Assessment, or TUDA.

Hard rankings are not considered reliable, as the testing samples are not consistent from district to district. Instead, the testing service groups districts together that are not statistically different from one another. The group of 27 also includes some districts that are purely urban with higher poverty rates, while Florida districts such as Hillsborough include large suburbs with more affluent populations.

Nevertheless, the district looks to these results each year to validate its progress and market its schools.

Here is a link to the report. It shows that:

1. In fourth grade reading, Hillsborough was one of six districts with similar percentages of students who showed “at or above basic” skill levels. In more simple terms: It was a six-way tie for first place. Hillsborough’s average district score was a point behind Charlotte and Miami-Dade. But, again, the difference is not considered significant.

2. In eighth grade reading, San Diego had the top district average score. The next group, including Hillsborough, had 11 districts with similar at-or-above basic percentages.

3. In fourth grade math, similar to the fourth grade reading report, Hillsborough was in a small group at the top. Five districts had above-basic percentages that were not significantly different from one another. As with reading, that group also included Duval and Miami-Dade.

4. In eighth grade math, Charlotte was considered significantly better than Hillsborough. The next group of 13 districts were comparable to Hillsborough.

Dr. Nicole Binder, the district’s director of assessments and accountability, said it is accurate to conclude that "we are tied for first or second for the differing test contents."

Binder said to keep in mind that “not all students are tested and it is a representative sample of our population.” She also noted that Hillsborough gives the test to many English language learners and learning-disabled students, while other districts do not.

Overall, she said, “we held our own and are a top performing district among the other TUDA districts.”

The results also reinforce the difficulty schools around the nation are having in teaching and encouraging students to read.

Florida was one of 17 states that saw a drop in reading scores since 2017. Nationwide, 35 percent of fourth grade students were found to be proficient in reading. Hillsborough and Miami-Dade were higher than that, at 38. Duval County was equal to the national average, at 35.

In some of the more urban districts in the group, the fourth grade reading proficiency levels were much lower: 14 percent in Milwaukee, 13 percent in Baltimore City and Cleveland, and 6 percent in Detroit.

Judging by the district average scores, Hillsborough out-performed both the nation and large cities in most of these measures.