tampabay.com

Science FCAT scores mixed

Students better in reading, math, but 11th-grade science scores slip.

By THOMAS C. TOBIN
Published May 24, 2007


Pinellas students improved for the third straight year in reading and math scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, but the results were mixed in science.

Fifty-nine percent of students in grades 3 through 10 scored at their grade level or better in reading. That was 2 percentage points better than last year and 6 points better than the 2003-04 school year.

A similar rise has taken place in math, where scores have steadily risen by a total of 9 percentage points since 2003-04.

As in previous years, the district slightly outpaced the state average and did well in many categories when compared to Florida's other large school systems.

"We're very pleased to continue to show upward trends in FCAT scores, " superintendent Clayton Wilcox said in a statement. "Pinellas County schools' performance indicates that we are keeping pace with other large districts in serving students well, which is a credit to the hard work of our teachers and the time they spend with their students."

The news was less promising in science, which is being included in the state's school grading formula for the first time this year.

Pinellas eighth-graders kept pace with their peers in the Tampa Bay area's four other districts and the state's seven largest school systems.

But Pinellas fifth-graders finished in the middle of the pack, and the district's 11th-graders were last.

No other large Florida district showed a drop in 11th-grade science scores from last year. Pinellas' dipped 6 percentage points. The district also showed the largest drop in the Tampa Bay region.

"It's a little early, " said Robert Orlopp, the science supervisor for Pinellas schools. "I'm not sure that on a 51- or 52-item test it's really easy to determine what's going on."

He said he needed to analyze the results in greater depth before drawing any conclusions.

The same is true for reading and math scores, said Carol Thomas, an assistant superintendent in charge of elementary schools.

She noted that the numbers released Wednesday include students who came into the system in the middle of the school year. Those students soon will be separated out of the data, allowing the district to see how students performed when they started the year in the system.

That's the more meaningful measure of how the system performed, Thomas said.

The district also will be working in coming weeks on a detailed school-by-school analysis using FCAT data as well as scores on a range of other tests given to students throughout the year.

Officials use all the numbers to determine whether programs under way at each school are working.

Pinellas also looks closely at how schools have done in raising the scores of their lowest performing students. A look at the latest scores reveals that those students are improving in some grades, but not others.

"We will absolutely be just tearing those tests apart, " Thomas said of Wednesday's FCAT scores. "But we'll also be tearing apart a lot of other data, too."