ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas County students made significant gains on U.S. history end-of-course exams — one of the few tests that will provide apples-to-apples comparisons to new standardized tests and education standards to be implemented next school year.
But in the three other test subjects, Pinellas continued to lag behind gains made elsewhere in the state.
Pinellas students had a 66 percent passing rate in this year’s history exam, 6 percent better than last school year, according to the Florida Department of Education scores released Monday. Across Florida, 65 percent of students passed the history test, a 10 percent increase.
Pinellas also improved in algebra I, going from 57 percent passing in 2012-13 to 61 percent this year, although still below the 66 percent statewide passing rate.
Only 61 percent passed the end-of-course geometry exam, down from 66 percent last year, and 68 percent passed biology, the same as last year. The statewide average was a 64 percent passing rate for geometry, a 1 percent increase over last year’s scores, and a 68 percent passing rate for biology, a 2 percent increase.
Pasco County was one of 13 school districts statewide that saw improvements in all four assessment areas, including an 8 percent increase in history. Hillsborough County’s scores mirrored those in Pinellas, with a 14 percent improvement in history and a 4 percent increase in algebra I. Statewide, about one-third of students continue to fail the exams.
The scores hold a bit more clout this school year. For the first time, they will be factored into whether students pass courses and graduate with a new “scholar” designation on their diplomas. All students are required to pass the algebra I end-of-course exam to graduate and also must pass the biology and history exams to earn the scholar designation, said Mary Jane Tappen, executive vice chancellor of K-12 public schools. Incoming freshmen also are required to pass the geometry and algebra II exams to earn scholar designations.
With the FCAT being replaced next year by a new standardized test, the end-of-course scores are one of few consistent markers to track student success.
Azalea Middle School was labeled a “turnaround school” last year for receiving multiple D school grades from the state. However, after a year of intense interventions in the classroom and tutoring after school, 64 of the 88 students, 73 percent, who took the high school-level algebra I exam passed, and 15 of the 16 students who took the geometry exam passed, or 94 percent. Last year, 67 students took the Algebra I test and none took the geometry test.
At Pinellas Park Middle, 90 of 128 students, 70 percent, passed the algebra I exam, and 37 of 40 students, or 93 percent, passed the geometry exam.
“Last year the students that participated in the tests were limited to our top, high-performing students, and this year we reached out to more students to participate at that level, so we’re thrilled they did so well,” Azalea Principal Connie Kolosey said. “If you ask a middle-schooler, ‘Hey kid, would you like to take an advanced class?,’ most kids will probably say ‘No thanks, that seems hard.’ Now we’re telling them that we have confidence they could handle this advanced coursework, and we’re seeing that when you raise expectations, students will rise to meet them.”
The increases in history scores could be the result of the new scholar designation, Stewart said. Students enrolled in advanced placement, International Baccalaureate or Advanced International Certificate of Education courses are not required to take the end-of-course exams that traditional classes are, Stewart said. However, many took the tests so they could get the scholar designation on their diplomas, she said.
Next school year, students will take an algebra I exam that aligns with the new Florida Standards, which will be fully adopted next school year. Under the new standards, there’s a greater emphasis on building models for problems, and students will be required to answer questions in ways that “prove their conceptual understanding,” Tappen said.