FCAT numbers exhibit slow, steady progress

Published May 24, 2007

It didn't take too much prompting at Seven Springs Middle School to get an excited reaction to Wednesday's release of FCAT results.

"We rocked on FCAT, " one secretary said proudly, while taking a reporter's message for the principal. Outgoing eighth-graders whooped and cheered when principal Chris Christoff announced that they had outpaced the county in their performance on the annual math, reading and science exams.

"We celebrated, " Christoff explained. "FCAT is not the whole picture, but it's a piece of the picture and I wanted to let them know how they did."

Seven Springs was not the only Pasco County school to cheer the latest round of data: scores for the fourth through 10th grades in the three subject areas. Third-graders and high school seniors, whose promotion depended on the results, got theirs earlier this month.

Overall, the district continued a slow trend upward, meeting or exceeding state passing averages in almost every grade level and subject. The percentages of students at Level 1, below grade level, has decreased since 2002 in every grade but the 10th.

"We're proud of the continued improvement that we're seeing, " superintendent Heather Fiorentino said.

She pointed to increased performance in math, reading and science for three high-poverty schools - Pasco, West Zephyrhills and Schrader elementary schools - that face federal sanctions for failing to meet adequate progress goals in the past five years.

"We're thrilled, " said Mary Stelnicki, Schrader's principal, who sounded optimistic about meeting the mark this time. "We've gained every year. This year things just fell into place."

Four other high-poverty elementary schools - Marlowe, Chasco, Lacoochee and Moon Lake - increased the percentage of students reading at grade level by at least 20 percent.

Cox Elementary in Dade City remained a point of concern for the district. The percentage of students scoring at grade level fell in several areas, with fewer than half of all children tested reaching that mark in the three subjects. In science, just 9 percent of fifth-graders achieved proficiency as set by the state.

"That's a school we've put a lot of resources in, and we will continue to put resources in, " Fiorentino said of the school, where about 90 percent of students receive free or reduced- price lunch and about as many do not speak English as their first language.

She noted the school has made some progress over time, but "it's not enough and it is something we're working on."

Science, which will count for the first time toward school grades, was problematic for most county schools. As a district, a lower percentage of students passed the exam than the state total - and the state didn't see half of the children pass.

"Of course, we want to see those percentages go up. Yes, we have increases. But overall, are we satisfied? No, " state Education Commissioner Jeanine Blomberg said. "That is one of our major initiatives statewide is to address this issue."

Seven Springs Middle and Pine View Elementary were the only Pasco schools at which at least half the students achieved grade level or better on the science test. Principals at both schools said their teaching staffs had created in-house lessons and evaluations to make sure they're teaching students the right things.

"We don't teach the test. We teach the standards through the activities, " said Monica Joiner, Pine View's principal.

Christoff said his school also gives students study logs based on the science concepts they learn starting in sixth grade, so they don't lose track before the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test's science test in eighth.

Using data to identify student needs and best teaching practices is the best way to achieve positive results in this age of school accountability, district research and evaluation director David Scanga said. And that's exactly what the district plans to do with the reams of information released Wednesday.

They'll look at how different student "subgroups" fared, and also at whether students made progress from year to year. For instance, they'll pay close attention to why only 48 percent of eighth-graders passed the math FCAT, while a year ago as seventh-graders 62 percent passed.

"Today is the big picture, " Fiorentino said. "Now we will take the information and drill down. That's how we will continue to meet the needs of each child."

Parents should be able to see their children's test results on the FCAT Parent Network by Friday. State-issued school grades should be out in the summer.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com (813) 909-4614 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505 ext. 4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Science scores

This is the first year science scores have counted toward school grades. This chart shows the percentage of students performing at grade level or above. For all 2007 scores, visit fcat.fldoe.org.
Grade 5 2006 2007 Diff.
State 35 42 +7
Citrus 42 51 +9
Hernando 34 42 +8
Hillsborough 35 40 +5
Pasco 30 37 +7
Pinellas 34 39 +5
Grade 8 2006 2007 Diff.
State 32 38 +6
Citrus 37 42 +5
Hernando 31 38 +7
Hillsborough 33 40 +7
Pasco 32 37 +5
Pinellas 33 38 +5
Grade 11 2006 2007 Diff.
State 35 37 +2
Citrus 40 47 +7
Hernando 36 34 -2
Hillsborough 40 41 +1
Pasco 38 35 -3
Pinellas 38 32 -6