FCAT science scores poor

Below-grade level performance by 60 percent of students could hurt Hillsborough schools' grades.

By LETITIA STEIN, Times Staff Writer
Published May 24, 2007

TAMPA - Most Hillsborough students are doing better in reading. And they can handle math.

But scientists they are not.

Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores released Wednesday showed modest gains in reading and math, but science was a different story. About six in 10 Hillsborough students have not mastered expectations for their grade level.

Schools should worry, since science scores will be a factor for the first time when school grades are released in coming weeks.

"There's no question we've got to address some issues with science, " said superintendent MaryEllen Elia, noting that schools still are getting used to the test, which debuted last year. "When you add anything, it's always tough."

Science skills are assessed in grades 5, 8 and 11. While low, Hillsborough's scores were an improvement from last year.

Forty percent of eighth-graders made the bar in science, an improvement of seven percent over last year.

Hillsborough posted slightly better science results than the state in both middle school and high school, where 41 percent of 11th-graders passed.

Elementary school fared the worst. Forty percent of Hillsborough fifth-graders passed the science exam, two percent fewer than statewide.

"If they're needing extra reading or extra math or extra PE or extra something else, science is the one that suffers, " said Liz Hunnicutt, Hillsborough's elementary science supervisor. "I want to see that changed."

She saw some of the best results at schools where elementary teachers specialize in subject areas, such as science and math or language arts.

Elia said the district is looking into helping students build a science vocabulary.

In reading and math, Hillsborough generally saw gains across grades 4 to 10. They were small but steady.

The biggest change: A four percent rise in the percent of fifth-graders reading at their grade level. Sixty-nine percent met the state's reading standard.

Hillsborough's reading and math results mostly lagged behind the state average.

Wednesday's results were overshadowed by the state's admission that it made errors in scoring last year's FCAT. State officials are recalculating the third-grade reading scores after finding that the assessment was too easy.

It's not the only concern school officials have raised about the FCAT. Hillsborough has questioned the fairness of the benchmarks on the high school reading test.

About one-third of 10th-graders passed the reading exam this year, a requirement for graduation. State officials acknowledge that the test asks students to jump a far higher bar in high school than at other grade levels.

Elia, a fan of accountability, would like to see the FCAT standards reviewed at all grades. She noted that this year's school grades, based on FCAT scores, will see two major changes. The state is adding science and math gains to the formula.

Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com or 226-3400.

Fast fact: Today is the last day of school for Hillsborough students. All schools release early.