Wednesday was a banner day for Hillsborough County schools. Not only did the district’s high schools post their best results ever in the state’s annual grading system, its fourth- and eighth-grade students finished tops in the country in a national test.
Superintendent MaryEllen Elia says the results reflect a focus on student needs by making sure after-school learning programs and other tools aimed at each student’s specific needs are available when students need a boost.
That focus appears to be working. Fourteen of the district’s 27 traditional high schools earned an A grade, and nine earned a B. Pinellas and Pasco also had reason to celebrate, with every Pinellas high school earning an A or a B for the first time, and Pasco doubling the number of A schools.
Granted, the state’s education accountability programs have come under fire in recent years as the criteria is changed to reflect concerns by lawmakers and educators. But the assigning of school grades takes into account a number of metrics beyond FCAT scores — such as college readiness and graduation rates for at-risk students — that reflect well on those schools garnering top grades.
And it matters, too. High-performing schools are rewarded with money for teachers or programs, an amount that can top $100,000 at larger schools.
Although not as consequential as the school grades, perhaps, the results of the national test prove Hillsborough can compete with any district in the country. The Trial Urban District Assessment tested fourth- and eight-grade students in 21 large school districts, including Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago and Boston. Hillsborough finished first in reading, and second in math. Minorities, the poor and exceptional students in Hillsborough outscored those same groups in every district tested.
The results are particularly salient as districts across Florida and the country begin implementing Common Core standards. If properly implemented, a testing component of Common Core will provide a measuring stick for districts and the state to see how they measure up against other states, and other countries.
Based on Wednesday’s results, Hillsborough appears ready.