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Hernando’s reading, writing FCAT scores disappoint

Tribune Staff

Published:   |   Updated: June 3, 2014 at 10:22 AM

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While Eastside Elementary School students performed well enough on this year’s Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests to lift the stigma of the school’s failing grade, not all of the district’s FCAT results are being celebrated.

Fourth-grade writing proficiency decreased 12 percent, district-wide, from 54 to 42 percent, while third-grade reading proficiency increased 1 percent from 62 to 63 percent, according to information released by the Florida Department of Education.

This year marks the end of FCAT testing, which will be replaced next year by the so-called “Florida Standards” examinations, which are designed to place more emphasis on analytical thinking.

“I’m not pleased. Given everyone’s hard work, I wanted to see great improvement in writing across all grades,” said Eric Williams, the school district’s director of school improvement. “It’s certainly a call to action for us to use the implementation of the new Florida Standards to hit the reset button and start planning instruction that’s Standards-based.

“Eastside made tremendous gains. (It shows that) when you serve a challenged population of students in an older facility with lots of resource barriers, you can still make significant student achievement growth. It can be done.”

On next year’s tests, Williams said English and language arts assessments will include reading and writing elements, primarily “writing in response to literature, fiction and non-fiction, using text-based evidence.”

Debbie Pfenning, the district’s K-12 reading and language arts supervisor, said that means teachers will focus on “the kind of writing that prepares you for career and college readiness.”

“Instead of responding to a random prompt, you respond to a question related to the text,” she said. “It’s evidence-based, so when you respond, you cite evidence from the text to support your response.”

This year’s writing grades weren’t all bad.

Pfenning cited eighth-grade writing proficiency increases at Explorer K-8, Powell Middle School and West Hernando Middle School, while 10th-graders at Nature Coast Technical High School and Weeki Wachee High School also showed significant gains.

She attributed success in those schools to the “Writing Across the Curriculum” strategies.

“Students are expected to be able to write in all subject areas,” Pfenning said. “We believe that that impacted (those schools’) success, or contributed to it.”

Among other schools showing significant improvements were Brooksville Elementary, where math proficiency increased 15 percent; and Moton Elementary, where reading scores showed an 11 percent jump.

At Pine Grove Elementary, third-grade math proficiency increased 40 percent, while reading scores climbed 14 points.

“We’ve always had a pretty proactive group of teachers at those schools who are focusing on school needs and continuous improvement,” Williams said. “That’s something those schools have promoted.”

District-wide, math scores dropped 1 percent.

“I look at it this way: Only 58 percent were performing at grade level or above last year, and that’s not a happy number, so a decline of 1 percent makes it even worse,” said Marcia Austin, the district’s math curriculum supervisor.

“My hope is that with the gains that occurred at several other schools there will be more conversations among the leaders in our schools about what worked, and what may not work in the coming year.”

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