FCAT shows students' writing is improving

But a closer look at Pinellas has some seeming contradictions.

Published April 26, 2007

Pinellas County students made gains this year on the writing portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, with fourth-graders posting a 7 percentage-point increase over last year's scores.

But when viewed from an individual school perspective, many fourth- and eighth-graders still lag behind their statewide counterparts.

While 78 percent of Pinellas fourth-graders earned at least a 3.5, the standard the state expects students to meet on a scale of 1 to 6, almost half of the district's 82 elementary schools posted scores below the statewide average, which also was 78 percent.

And while 86 percent of Pinellas eighth-graders scored 3.5 or above - actually 3 percentage points higher than the state average - more than one in four of the district's middle schools scored below that average.

The seeming contradiction is indicative of a school district with a great range in the ability of its students as measured on a standardized test, said Harry Brown, the district superintendent in charge of curriculum.

"Any time you look at aggregate scores, it tends to blind you to the very low scores at some schools and the very high scores at other schools," Brown said. "One thing we constantly do is analyze each school individually. Our school improvement plans address areas where there needs to be improvement."

Wednesday's release of FCAT writing scores showed that at one end of the spectrum in Pinellas, 100 percent of the fourth-graders at Tarpon Springs Fundamental scored 3.5 or above. But at three schools - Bear Creek, Bardmoor and Pinellas Park elementaries - fewer than 61 percent of fourth-graders scored 3.5 or above.

Among eighth-graders, 99 percent of those at Coachman Fundamental scored 3.5 or above, while only 79 percent of the fourth-graders at Azalea Middle School met the mark. That said, fourth-graders at some of the district's lowest-performing schools posted large gains over last year.

At Belleair Elementary, 79 percent of the students scored 3.5 or above, a 28 percentage-point gain. Fourth-graders at Lakewood Elementary jumped from 52 percent scoring at 3.5 or above to 77 percent. And fourth-graders at Lealman Avenue and Fairmount Park elementaries showed 20 percentage-point gains, with 68 and 73 percent scoring at 3.5 or above, respectively.

Pinellas 10th-graders came closer to meeting the statewide average of students scoring 3.5 or above, which was 79 percent. Only five of the district's 18 high schools posted scores below that. But at one of those schools - Northeast High - the percentage of 10th-graders scoring 3.5 or above rose from 73 to 78 over last year, the second-highest gain among Pinellas high schools.

This is the 15th year fourth-, eighth- and 10th-graders have taken the writing portion of the FCAT. On Wednesday morning, Commissioner Jeanine Blomberg said Florida teachers deserve the credit for long-term gains in student writing scores. She pointed out that only 34 percent of the state's fourth-graders scored at 3.5 or above in 1999.

Blomberg dismissed questions that arose concerning students' relatively poor performance on the multiple choice section of the test - fewer than 50 percent of the state's eighth- and 10th-graders scored at grade level on that portion. She said this is only the second year students have had to prepare for a multiple choice exam.

Last year, the state introduced "Writing Plus," a combination of the standard essay section with a new multiple choice section. The multiple choice questions were designed to measure skills such as writing focus and organization.

The release of writing scores marks the start of this year's FCAT rollout. Scores in math, reading and science are expected in coming weeks, culminating with the release of school letter grades in June.

Times staff writer Connie Humburg contributed to this report. Donna Winchester can be reached at winchester@sptimes.com or 727 893-8413.


On the Web

To view this year's FCAT writing scores, go to www.fldoe.org.

For the latest education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.