TAMPA – Hillsborough County students made significantly higher marks on the U.S. History end-of-course exam last school year than their peers the previous year. They also posted gains in algebra, remained flat in biology and dropped slightly in geometry scores, according to data released Monday by the Florida Department of Education.
This batch of scores was the last to be made public before overall school grades are released in July.
Of the Hillsborough students who took the exam for the first time, 74 percent passed, a 14 percentage increase over the 60 percent who passed in 2013. Across Florida, only 65 percent of students passed the U.S. History test, a 10 percentage point increase.
This is the first year for the history scores to be factored into school grades. Last year, they didn’t count because it was the first year the test was offered.
While new tests and education standards will replace some of the old ones next school year, the U.S. History end-of-course exam is here to stay.
“Our teachers worked really hard this year,” said Dennis Holt, the school district’s supervisor of secondary education. “They were under some pressure to perform and they did. We’re really happy this year.”
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Hillsborough students also improved four percentage points on the Algebra 1 exam, with 64 percent passing. In Geometry, 64 percent passed, a decrease of three percentage points. In Biology 1, there was no change, with 63 percent passing the exam.
The algebra test, first given in 2011, is the only state end-of-course exam students must pass to graduate. A Level 3 on a 1 to 5 scale is considered passing. The other end of course exams count as 30 percent of a student’s final grade in that class.
Next school year, students will take a new Algebra 1 exam that aligns to the new Florida Standards.
Statewide about one-third of students continue to fail the exams – 65 percent passed the algebra exam, 64 percent passed geometry and 68 percent passed biology.
“This is an improvement over last year’s rates and we continue to strive for improvement,” Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said during a press call Monday. “We will work to see that every single student passes not only the EOC’s but the state assessment overall.”
This year is the first for the scores to be factored into whether a student passes courses and graduates from high school with a new “scholar” designation on their high-school diplomas. In addition to passing the Algebra 1 end-of-course exam to graduate, students are now required to also pass the Biology 1 and U.S. History exams to earn the scholar designation, said Mary Jane Tappen, executive vice chancellor of K-12 public schools.
Unlike older classes, incoming freshmen are also required to pass the Geometry and Algebra 2 exams to earn their “scholar” designations.
The boost in U.S. History scores could be due to the requirements for the new “scholar” designation, Stewart said.
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During the 2013-14 school year, Hillsborough students taking U.S. History – the majority being high school juniors – took a series of practice exams throughout the year to help them prepare. Teachers used the practice tests to figure out each student’s strengths and weaknesses.
The students at Newsome High School posted a 10 percentage point gain on the U.S. History exam, with 92 percent passing. It’s one of the best scores in the district.
“That department has a culture of high academic standards,” Principal Carla Bruning said. “The teachers are really intent on keeping up with where the students are. They do really push the students.”
Pasco County was one of 13 school districts statewide that saw improvements in all four assessment areas, the biggest being an eight percentage point increase in U.S. History to a 72 percent passing rate.
“We’re pleased with these scores,” Superintendent Kurt Browning said, in a prepared statement. “Because they reflect what we are teaching in the classroom, end-of-course exams present a much more accurate picture of our students’ learning during this time of transition than do high stakes tests like FCAT.”
Pinellas County students improved their scores on the U.S. History test by six percentage points to a 66 percent passing rate.
The district improved in two other subjects, but continues to lag behind the gains made in the rest of the state – its Algebra 1 passing rate improved from 57 percent of students passing in the 2012-13 school year to 61 percent. Only 61 percent of Pinellas students passed the end-of-course Geometry exam, down from 66 percent last school year, and 68 percent passed the Biology 1 exam, the same as the previous year.
Tribune reporter Anastasia Dawson contributed to this report.