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County's students shine in FCAT essays

But the Hillsborough district, as well as the rest of the state, fares poorly on multiple choice.

By LETITIA STEIN Times Staff Writer
Published April 26, 2007


TAMPA - Hillsborough students are mastering the art of the FCAT essay, posting steady gains on the state's timed writing test.

Results released Wednesday also showed that the district is performing better than the state average.

School officials say Hillsborough traditionally shines on the writing portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test - given at grades 4, 8 and 10.

"We're going to be very close to, if not leading the pack again," said Michael Grego, Hillsborough's assistant superintendent for curriculum. "That's a tribute to our teachers."

This year's progress was small, but steady:

-Ninety-one percent of Hillsborough eighth-graders scored at 3.5 or above, the state's benchmark for students on a 1 to 6 scale. Eighth-graders posted Hillsborough's best results, gaining two percentage points over last year.

-Fourth-graders improved by three percentage points, with 80 percent of the class meeting the state's writing standards.

-At 10th grade, 85 percent of Hillsborough students met the state benchmark, a 2 percentage-point gain. Statewide, 79 percent of 10th graders scored 3.5 or above, a one percentage-point gain.

Looking at state trends, Education Commissioner Jeanine Blomberg credited teachers for long-term improvement. She pointed out that only 34 percent of the state's fourth-graders scored at 3.5 or above in 1999.

She dismissed questions concerning students' relatively poor performance on the multiple choice section of the test - fewer than 50 percent of Florida's eighth and 10th graders scored at their grade level.

She noted this is only the second year they have prepared for this part of the exam.

Hillsborough students posted better scores than the state averages, but also fared less well on the multiple choice portion. Fifty-six percent of 10th-graders - and 57 percent of eighth-graders - met the standards. Sixty percent of county fourth-graders could write at their grade level on the multiple choice portion.

On the writing portion, students had 45 minutes to organize focused essays that responded to written prompts.

Some eighth graders, for example, were asked to persuade a principal whether soda and candy machines at schools are a good idea.

Wednesday's scores mark the start of this year's FCAT rollout.

Scores in math, reading and science are expected in coming weeks.

Some schools received an early chance to celebrate. Others cringed to see scores plunge.

At south Tampa's Mitchell Elementary and Terrace Community Middle, a charter school, the news couldn't be better: 100 percent of students met the state standards on the writing essay.

East Bay High in south Hillsborough saw the percent of students writing at grade level rise 21 points, from 65 percent to 86.

The Rampello Downtown Partnership School and Ruskin Elementary also joined a handful of schools logging gains of more than 20 percentage points.

Other schools were left to puzzle over declines. Ballast Point Elementary and Mango Elementary dropped around 20 percentage points.

School officials will review the performance of every campus to see where they can improve. The initial results include scores of students with disabilities and those learning English. Some will not be counted for school grades.

Letitia Stein can be reached at Staff writer Donna Winchester contributed to this report.

[Last modified April 26, 2007, 09:28:41]

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