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FCAT Scores Plummet Statewide, Sending Education Officials in a Panic

| May 14, 2012

From unlikely to dismal. (© FlaglerLive)

Preliminary FCAT writing scores for Florida’s 4th, 8th and 10th graders have plummeted to record and unexpected lows. The grades on the high-stakes Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test are preliminary, with no district-by-district details yet. But they reflect a tougher FCAT test instituted this year. If reading and math tests results follow the same trend, those results will have with vast implications on student graduation or promotion rates, school grades, teacher evaluations and merit pay, and state school finances. Writing scores already factor into some of these criteria.

According to the Florida Department of Education, just 27 percent of 4th graders passed the writing FCAT this year, down from 81 percent last year. Just 33 percent of 8th graders passed, down from 82 percent, and 38 percent of 10th graders passed, down from 80 percent.

“We all knew that the standards were going to increase how students are being scored this year,” Shawn Schmidli, Flagler County schools’ assessment coordinator, said Monday afternoon. “I don’t know if anybody expected the numbers to change this dramatically.”

The FCAT is scored on a scale of 1 to 6. A passing grade until last year was 3.5. That was raised to 4 this year. So were the writing standards, which, by the state Board of Education’s admission, had been too lax. Under the new standards, students were to be graded more rigorously on “the correct use of standard English conventions and the quality of details provided as support,” in the state board’s words. “Both of these elements had in the past been scored with leniency.” In other words, the new standards were designed to be a better reflection of correct English usage, with more attention to punctuation, style and the use of evidence–basic writing tenets that in the past had not been applied as rigorously, essentially inflating students’ scores while perhaps deceiving them, and their schools, about their aptitude.

“My gut reaction is that there is something drastically wrong with the test,” Flagler County School Board member Collen Conklin said. “Our kids don’t suddenly not know how to write a sentence and our teachers don’t suddenly don’t know how to teach overnight, and if this doesn’t scream the need for everyone to stop this testing madness and reassess what everyone is doing, I’m not sure if we ever will.” Conklin disputes the notion that the standards weren’t rigorous already–not, she says, when kindergarteners are expected to finish the year ready to write three sentences in proper English. “So I’m not entirely sure if the issue is the standard or not. And if it is, then we have a bigger issue on our hand. But the fact of the matter is you can;t go overnight, change all the rules of the game, and not have concern.”

Panicked by Monday’s results, the Florida Board of Education called an emergency meeting with its members by phone at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, specifically to address the scores’ impact on school grades. (You can listen to the call at no charge by dialing 1 (866) 304-6786, Conference ID #81596641). “Based on preliminary results of the 2012 writing assessment,” the state board wrote in preparation of the emergency meeting, “applying the 4.0 threshold in addition to the heightened scoring rules may have unforeseen adverse impacts upon school grades, warranting emergency review by the State Board of Education.”

One of the proposals the board will consider on Tuesday: lowering the passing grade (which educator lingo defines as the “cut score”) again from 4 to 3.5. A much higher number of students would then have passing grades, but still a far smaller number than in 2011. In 2012, 48 percent of 4th graders passed with a 3.5 or above–still almost half the passing rate of the previous year. Among 8th graders, 52 percent passed with a 3.5 or better, and among 10th graders, 38 percent passed.

Conklin commended the state board for taking swift action. “That to me says they realize as well how out of whack this truly is,” she said, though she cautioned: a task force had produced some 35 recommendations on how to improve the FCAT. The board adopted only three to five of those recommendations.

For the first time this year, teachers’ merit pay is in part based on FCAT scores. Teachers who get unsatisfactory ratings two years in a row may be fired. The state’s and county teacher unions are likely to cite the new batch of FCAT scores as one more reason why the overly complicated formula behind teacher evaluations is flawed.

“There have been a lot of parents over the years who have been unhappy with the assessments,” Mark Pudlow, a spokesman for the Florida Education Association, the teachers union, told the News Service of Florida. “Hopefully this will give us a real opportunity to see how we should evaluate students and evaluate teachers”

Conklin concludes: “While I think it’s alarming everybody needs to take a deep breath including myself, and we need to truly assess the situation and find out what’s happening, because at the end of the day we need to figure out how this is going to affect students and teachers, because now you’re talking about tying compensation to test scores.”

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27 Responses for “FCAT Scores Plummet Statewide, Sending Education Officials in a Panic”

  1. JL says:

    Do away with the FCAT. Teachers are being forced to “teach the test”. So for months, that’s all the children are learning. They have no choice. If a school does poorly, the state takes money away from them. Whoever came up with that idea should be the first to be put into remedial classes, because they are ignorant. Schools that tend to do the worse are ones that have the poorest kids. Often parents aren’t home to go over homework and make sure the kids show up every day for school. By the way, attendance affects the school’s grade too. Not the teacher’s fault, but they are still penalized if kids don’t show up every day.
    The system needs an overhaul. How about we go back to the old days, where teachers teach a well wounded curriculum. I believe most of us over 40 received a great education. We didn’t have the FCAT.
    This was a bad idea from the start. How about getting politician’s out of the education business. They ruin everything they touch. Let’s leave it to educators.

       8 likes

  2. Ugh…..

       3 likes

  3. AnnoyedEighthGrader says:

    As an eighth grader, I’m appalled by FCAT. I’m a writer; I’ve won awards at The Miami-Dade County Fair and Scholastic, and FCAT continues to befuddle me. In 4th grade, my prompt was “Write to explain your favorite classroom job”. Lovely. This year, mine was “Write to persuade your principal whether students should or should not be graded on their behavior in school”. They couldn’t have been any more vague and confusing, considering we already have conduct grades. And as to the grading… I’ve never had grammar in school; the class where I’ve learned the most, in fact, has been Spanish. It’s instinctive for me, but most don’t posses an intuitive grasp of grammar without instruction. FCAT- Florida Child Abuse Test. It’s more appropriate, really, then “Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test”… a bit redundant, isn’t it? Perhaps the same person who coined the name set the grading scale this year, or made teachers’ pay dependent upon it.

       3 likes

  4. Agnese says:

    The “powers that be” should look back a generation or two, that’s what worked, they should stick to it.

       4 likes

  5. Flagler Native says:

    Thank god my kids are homeschooled. I would h8 for them to be graded for a lifetime on how they do on “ONE” end of year test. Grow up Florida Department of Education, YOU are the ones failing them and now YOU don’t like the results?!?
    In a nutshell…The Public Education system is broken. How horrible does it need to get before something drastic is finally done?

       3 likes

  6. Alan Cook says:

    National math test scores continue to be disappointing. This poor trend persists in spite of new texts, standardized tests with attached implied threats, or laptops in the class. At some point, maybe we should admit that math, as it is taught currently and in the recent past, seems irrelevant to a large percentage of grade school kids.

    Why blame a sixth grade student or teacher trapped by meaningless lessons? Teachers are frustrated. Students check out.

    The missing element is reality. Instead of insisting that students learn another sixteen formulae, we need to involve them in tangible life projects. And the task must be interesting.

    Project-oriented math engages kids. It is fun. They have a reason to learn the math they may have ignored in the standard lecture format of a class room.

    Alan Cook
    info@thenumberyard.com

       5 likes

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