Year after big gains in FCAT, a slippage
Pinellas third-graders mirror a statewide trend of posting a decline in test scores.
By DONNA WINCHESTER
Published May 3, 2007
For the first time, Pinellas third-graders have lost ground on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
The number of third-graders reading at grade level or above fell from 76 to 70 percent, mirroring a statewide trend that saw a 6 percentage-point decline overall, based on scores released Wednesday by the Florida Department of Education.
The news came a year after the district's third-graders posted their biggest gains ever. In 2006, eight schools showed gains of at least 15 percentage points, and three showed gains of 20 percentage points or more.
Pinellas officials chose to take a positive view of this year's results.
"As a snapshot, the good news is that 11 of our schools improved in both reading and math, " said Harry Brown, deputy superintendent for curriculum and operation. "I think some of the interventions we put in place really helped.
The largest declines were seen at 20 of the district's 82 elementary schools, where the percentage-point drops were in double digits. And in the cases of Bear Creek, Gulfport, Kings Highway and Lakewood elementaries, where fewer than half of the students scored at grade level or above, more students could be at risk of being held back.
Third-graders who score at the lowest level on the reading portion of the FCAT are required to repeat the grade unless they can demonstrate reading ability by some other means. The number of Pinellas third-graders performing at the lowest level increased this year from 14 to 18 percent.
The downward trend wasn't restricted to lower-performing schools. Seminole Elementary, where 90 percent of third-graders were reading at or above grade level last year, saw an 18 percentage-point drop. Forest Lakes Elementary, where 93 percent were at grade level or above last year, dropped by 10 percentage points.
Octavio Salcedo, Pinellas' director of testing, pointed out that in some cases where the decline was most severe, the schools had reverted to scores closer to 2005 levels.
At Cross Bayou Elementary, which saw its third-grade reading score fall by 14 percentage points, the number of students reading at grade level is actually 1 percentage point higher than in 2005.
"Last year's third-graders may have been a better cohort, " Salcedo said. "The other possibility is that the test was a little harder this year."
While Education Department officials concede that one year's class of third-graders could perform better than another class, they denied that the difficulty of the test changes from year to year.
"When data are tracked over time, some fluctuation in performance from year to year is expected, " said education commissioner Jeanine Blomberg.
Statewide, the percentage of third-graders reading at grade level or above declined from 75 percent in 2006 to 69 percent this year.
But in math, the percentage of students performing at grade level or above rose from 72 percent to 74 percent statewide, and from 74 to 77 percent in Pinellas, a point state and local officials seized upon.
"You've got to be able to read to do math, " said Brown, Pinellas' deputy superintendent. "To me, it's a mixed message to have our students do so well on math and for some unknown reason to do poorly on the reading test."
Also Wednesday, the state released scores for 12th-graders who have not yet passed the 10th-grade FCAT.
Of the 1, 082 12th-graders who tried again to pass the reading portion of the FCAT, only 19 percent were successful. Of the 451 who took the math section, only 30 percent passed.