MANATEE -- Manatee County public schools improved in every category of the preliminary FCAT 2.0 scores from last year and were recognized Friday by the commissioner of education for the gains. But they still rank below the statewide average in almost every category.
"As a school district, we've been well below the state averages for years," Superintendent Rick Mills said in response to the scores on Friday. "We're are working on closing that gap. This is great news to celebrate."
Scores released Friday by the state Department of Education included:
In Manatee, 3,914 students took the third-grade FCAT 2.0 reading test, and 51 percent passed. Last year, 49 percent passed in Manatee. Statewide, 209,852 students took the third-grade FCAT 2.0 reading test, and 57 percent passed. In Sarasota County, 71 percent of students passed the test this year as well as last year.
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In Manatee, 3,913 students took the third-grade math test, with 54 percent passing. Last year, 49 percent passed in Manatee. Statewide, 209,724 grade three students took the math test, and 58 percent passed. In Sarasota County, 65 percent of students passed the test, a three-point drop from last year.
In Manatee, 3,402 fourth-grade students took the writing test, and 54 percent passed. Last year, 45 percent passed in Manatee. Statewide, 195,308 students took the fourth-grade test, and 53 percent passed. In Sarasota Coun
ty, 64 percent of students passed, a three-point drop from last year.
On Friday, Manatee officials said this year was the first time the district had exceeded the statewide average in this category.
In Manatee, 3,423 students took the eighth-grade writing test, and 45 percent passed. Last year, 44 percent passed. Statewide, 199,204 students took the eighth-grade writing test, and 56 percent passed. In Sarasota County, 66 percent of students passed, the same percentage of students who passed last year.
In Manatee, 2,954 students took the 10th-grade writing test, and 58 percent passed. Last year, 51 percent passed. Statewide, 190,535 students took the test statewide, and 64 percent passed. In Sarasota County, 73 percent of students passed, a four-point increase from last year.
Pam Stewart, commissioner of education, noted Manatee County's gains on FCAT 2.0 Writing and Third Grade Reading and Mathematics. Stewart also highlighted gains made by Citrus and Hillsborough counties in a release sent out Friday morning.
"I am confident that with new standards and assessments next year replacing the FCAT, our students will continue to succeed," Stewart said.
Manatee County improved from 2013 in all five assessment areas released Friday. The third-grade math passing rate increased by 5 percentage points. Fourth-grade writing passing rate increased 9 percentage points and 10th-grade writing was up 7 percentage points.
Deputy Superintendent for Instruction Diana Greene said the normal growth rate year to year is 1 or 2 percentage points.
"This is a great start," she said.
Greene highlighted specific schools within the district including Manatee High School, Myakka City Elementary, and Palmetto and Moody elementary schools for making significant gains in the writing section of the FCAT. Tenth-grade students at Manatee High School improved by 40 points in a year, jumping from 23 percent proficiency to 63 percent proficient.
At Myakka City Elementary, students jumped from 24 percent proficient in 2013 to 76 percent proficient this year, a 52 percentage-point increase. Palmetto and Moody elementary schools both rose 49 percentage points. Palmetto rose from 11 percent proficient in 2013 to 60 percent in 2014, and Moody rose from 40 percent proficiency to 89 percent.
The significant gains came, officials said, as a direct result of heavy focus on achievement in schools. District officials conducted monthly meetings with principals at Title 1 and at-risk skills to develop formative benchmarks.
"We're giving as much support as possible," Greene said.
Students who did not pass the test in grade three are in danger of not being promoted to grade four, but the state allows districts to use other measures to promote the students, Greene said. Each student in danger will undergo a portfolio review.
"If their portfolio passes, they'll be promoted," Greene said.
If not, there is a summer camp available. At the end of the summer camp, students can take an additional test. If the student passes that test, they can also be promoted. Older students can use ACT or SAT scores to earn concordant passing scores and graduate high school.
With preliminary numbers showing gains, Greene said she is looking forward to seeing the other scores.
"This is a great beginning point as we move to our other scores," she said Friday.
2014 marked the last year the FCAT tests would be taken. Next year, the FCAT tests will be replaced with new ones developed by American Institutes for Research. The testing aligns with the nationwide Common Core standards, which are called Florida standards here. End-of-course exams won't change next year, Greene said.
Officials expect to know what the new tests should look like in June.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follower her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.