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Sunday, Aug 31, 2014

8 Pinellas schools post double-digit boosts on FCAT

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— Eight Pinellas County public schools saw double-digit increases in fourth-grade writing scores, including three so-called turnaround schools, in the state FCAT results released Friday.

Two St. Petersburg middle schools, Azalea and Tyrone, had major gains in eighth-grade writing in the standardized Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, with Tyrone increasing its score to 49 percent passing, up from 28 percent the year before.

Writing coach Beth Anderson oversaw changes to the way the essay portion was taught at Tyrone, including a rigorous planning portion and access to the grading standards so they could self-analyze.

“They shot for the stars, and some of them landed on the moon,” she said. “I imagine our methods will be coveted and repeated.”

For Tyrone Middle School Principal Robin Mobley, the spike in passing grades was welcome news for the school, which has been hampered with bad press since two consecutive D grades sent the school into turnaround status.

“It’s a breath of fresh air,” she said. “We’ve lived under such negativity over the past two years.”

This is the final year for the statewide FCAT, intended to measure student learning as well as teacher effectiveness. Next year, it will be replaced by a new method called Florida Standards, which Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart termed “a broader approach to student learning, including an increased emphasis on critical thinking.”

Statewide, no gains were made for third-graders reading and writing scores in the FCATs this year, but state education officials were quick to point out there were no declines, either.

“Our teachers and students work hard every day, and I am proud of their work,” Stewart said. “I am very pleased that our students are making steady progress as we continue to transition to more rigorous standards,”

In all, more than half — 57 percent in reading and 58 in math — of third-graders statewide scored what’s considered a passing grade this year. Only 49 percent of Pinellas County students passed their math tests. In Hillsborough County the number was 56. In Pasco, 50 percent passed.

Like the rest of the state, most Pinellas test scores remained flat or saw a slight bump over last year. Third-grade math and eighth-grade writing each improved by 1 percentage point in Pinellas. Third-grade writing scores are viewed as important since they can factor significantly into whether students advance to fourth grade. Also out Friday were fourth-, eighth- and 10th-grade writing scores.

In third-grade reading and math, two St. Petersburg elementary schools — Pinellas Park and Ponce de Leon — had major increases, with the latter school’s third-grade math score improving by 28 percentage points.

Three Pinellas turnaround schools, including Dunedin, Melrose and Mildred Helms, saw double-digit increases in the number of third-graders passing the writing exam. Melrose Elementary in south St. Petersburg went up to 14 points to 38 percent, Mildred Helms in Largo went up 13 points to 53 percent, and Dunedin Elementary School went up 10 points to 64 percent.

“I’m very proud of all of our educators and students who worked so hard to improve their scores,” Superintendent Michael Grego said in a news release. “I know that our schools were especially focused this past year, expanding on the strategies that worked well last year. We will continue to excel and pursue instructional excellence, not only on testing days, but every day of the school year.”

kbradshaw@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-7999

Twitter: @kbradshawTBO

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