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Test scores up, achievement gap closing for Hillsborough County Schools

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Posted at 5:48 PM, Jul 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-25 11:19:48-04

TAMPA, Fla. — Hillsborough County Public Schools is celebrating its latest FSA test scores. HCPS jumped 16 spots to become the 19th ranked school district in Florida.

HCPS reports 96% of its schools earned a "C" or better on the FSA. In 2019, only 86% received a passing grade.

Test scores haven't been compiled over the last two years. The 2020-2021 FSA wasn't offered because of the pandemic. Test scores were optional the next year.

Superintendent Addison Davis set out to see those exact results in 2020.

"Before 2019, this district was in a place that truly needed continued collective collaboration on how to identify proactive strategies to help children excel," he said.

Hillsborough County Public Schools created the 'Transformation Network' in 2020 after a reorganization and recalibration of the District's Achievement School model. It's aimed at looking at the district's most challenged schools for a different approach at success.

"Now after hard work, dedication, concentration, centralizing our focus instructionally, wrapping our arms around our students, our families. In helping teachers, helping leaders, all of us working in concert to protect the the greatest ambitious, aggressive strategies that allow us to move the needle instructionally has allowed us to show tremendous gains." said the Superintendent.

Two years after creating the Transformation Network, HCPS went from 28 of its schools earning a "D" or lower, to five.

"It's remarkable to be able to decrease by 82%, the number of historical underperforming schools in this district, which has never been done before." Davis said.

The Superintendent honored some of the principals with the highest growth Monday. That included Palm River Elementary School Principal Kelly McCluney.

"We have a leader two years ago that was a school that really was in transformation and needed to be able to be lifted. We needed someone that would have concentration at Palm Rivers Elementary School. This individual is one of the greatest instructional leaders I have in this district; really is working on the process of mental health, all kinds of mental health supports in the school, and was able to move the school to a for the first "B" ever in their history," he said.

While the school didn't accept it's 2021 FSA scores, the school sat an "F". Principal Kelly McCluney says good collaboration between her staff, students, and families made this yaer's "B" happen. All of the players giving the students the push needed to believe they could do it.

"After every informal and formal assessment, we would meet with them. And we would go through their data, talk about what went well, what will be their next steps, and then set that goal for that next assessment," said Principal McCluney.

It's not just the rising test scores that's proof of the Palm River model's success. The school was also able to better close its achievement gap.

The National Assessment of Education Progress says achievement gaps occur "when one group of students (e.g., students grouped by race/ethnicity, gender) outperforms another group and the difference in average scores for the two groups is statistically significant (i.e., larger than the margin of error)."

More than half of Palm River's students are Hispanic. More than 30% is black. While 12% of its students are white.

You can see the achievement gap for every Florida school and district here. One example of Palm River's success; statewide, the math scores achievement gap between white students and Hispanic students is 18%. But at Palm River, it's only 2%.

"Being able to make our instruction, our content, culturally relevant things that they were interested in things that they had background knowledge and experiences with were huge," she said.

Principal McCluney added another important part, teachers and staff who look like the students.

"One thing with the new curriculum that we had, they did their themes, or did the instruction through themes and topics. So one of the topics was about natural disasters and different things. So that was information that our kids were familiar with, just again, just different things with their culture. We're celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, African American History Month, and then just asking them what they were interested in, and being able to go to do those culminating activities at the end, where they actually got to show what they learned and demonstrated through various ways."

Superintendent Davis says that's a model he wants to see on a larger scale.

Throughout the district, the ELA achievement gap reduced by 5% for black and Hispanic students. English language learners saw a 4% decrease as well as students with disabilities.

In math, black students saw a 3% decrease., 4% for Hispanics, and socially and economically disadvantaged students saw a 4% decrease.

HCPS saw the highest decrease in social studies. 6% among black students, 5% among Hispanic students, 3% among ELL, and 5% among students with disabilities.

"You're starting to see positive movement. Anytime that we can move in that right direction by closing that gap is still existing as large. And it's not only larger from a state perspective, but a national perspective as well," said Superintendent Davis.

While the achievement gap is closing he says there's still too much of a learning gap for minority and economically disadvantaged students in Hillsborough County.

"We've got to do a better job focusing, gaining access to our students. And we also have to see color, and recognize that we should see color when we hire as well. Because we need our students to be able to have someone that looks like them, someone that understands who they are, their culture, the backgrounds, but at the same token that believes in them every single day, it gives them a sense of hope and care."

Now HCPS is making strides in doing just that.

"We have an African American Task Force. We have a Hispanic Task Force. All to be able to create a longer, stronger bench of individuals that look like our students. Because the majority we serve are black and brown. Our hiring process should mirror the demographics of everyone at our schools. Are we there yet? No. But we're going to get there."