Increasing Student Achievement

Author: Superintendent MaryEllen Elia, Hillsborough County Public Schools

October 1, 2014

This article was previously posted on Helios Education Foundation's Blog. 

This is a time of incredible educational change in the state of Florida, and amid all the “moving parts” and new initiatives, it can sometimes seem overwhelming. In Hillsborough County Public Schools we simplify things by adhering to this guiding principle: Everything we do is about increasing student achievement.

Our Empowering Effective Teachers initiative, funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is based on the belief that the one factor that has the greatest impact on student learning is great teachers. With that in mind, we have completely overhauled our teacher evaluation system. Now our teachers get more feedback and support than ever.

We have put in place a cadre of mentors to support our newest teachers in their first two years in the profession. What we have found is that with the help of the mentors, more of our new teachers are remaining in the profession and are more effective in the classroom.

We recently created a new compensation system tied to our new evaluations. We offered our teachers the option of entering the new pay plan or remaining under the pay plan that has been in place for decades. Three quarters of the eligible teachers opted in to the new pay plan.

Unfortunately, the nearly constant changes at the state level (changes to FCAT and the school grading formula) have made it difficult to monitor progress. That’s why we also pay close attention to other measures of student progress.

In recent years we have participated in a highly regarded national assessment called the Trial Urban District Assessment that compares reading and math performance among 4th and 8th graders in large, urban school districts across the nation. The assessment, commonly referred to as The Nation’s Report Card, enabled us to see how our students compare to peers in districts such as Boston, Houston, Charlotte, New York and Austin.

The results? Our students had the highest reading scores – in 4th and 8th grade – of all the districts. And in math, our students were statistically tied for second place. So, the next time someone says the schools up north were better, you might have to correct them.

Several other indicators show promise. We routinely lead the state in National Merit Scholars, National Achievement Scholars, and National Hispanic Scholars. Those honors place our students among the most academically talented students in the nation.

Our district also has been applauded for making tremendous strides in the number of students taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses, and for the number earning college credit in those courses. In the last five years, our numbers have more than doubled. Increases among our minority students are even greater. Those courses demand more of students – and of teachers – but the richer, more rigorous education experience has long-term rewards.

So, amid all the changes – and there are more to come – we in HCPS intend to remain focused on the goal that is the reason we come to work every day: raising student achievement.

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Category: Education Excellence

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