State’s Largest Districts Find “Significant Anomalies” in FCAT Results and Demand Halt to Grading
FlaglerLive | July 12, 2010
The school superintendents of five of the state’s largest school districts say the just-released Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) results are showing “substantial decreases in learning gains components” in elementary schools, even in traditionally high-performing schools, and that “the severity of the decreases cannot be explained by normal year-to-year fluctuations.”
In a strongly-worded letter hand-delivered to the state education commissioner Monday morning, the superintendents of Hillsborough, Duval, Broward, Miami-Dade and Leon county Commissioner Eric Smith to halt the imminent release of School Performance Grades related to the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and to investigate the testing data across the state. The superintendents’ charge that the test results may be flawed is the latest development on the heels of a series of scandals involving Iowa-based Iowa-based Pearson, the testing company Florida pays $50 million a year to score the FCAT. Pearson flubbed a different portion of the scoring this year–it had problems reconciling scores with students’ demographic data–, forcing a five-week delay in releasing the school-based and individual student scores. The company said it had worked out all the problems by the time the scores were released on June 29.
Superintendents are saying that does not appear to be the case.
“After a review of the 2010 FCAT results,” they wrote, “it has become apparent that there are substantial decreases in learning gains components. Data analyses indicate that schools may be losing between 10 and 30 points on the gains components, with some districts indicating losses as high as 60-90 points. These losses are especially prominent in the lowest 25 percent reading gains component. These drops are significant in the area of reading and are particularly severe in elementary schools. These decreases are being seen across the state.”
If the superintendents are right, not only are students’ individual scores flawed, but those scores risk falsely tarnishing schools’ reputations and affecting teachers’ fate across the state.
School Performance Grades are the final set of results released at the end of every testing cycle. Those grades are the most public and consequential of all for every public school. The grades are assigned to every school to reflect how each individual school performed collectively on FCAT tests in reading and math, compared to the previous year. The grades carry huge weight. They determine whether that school will receive tens of thousands of dollars in “bonus” money. They determine whether certain teachers in reading and math are kept on the staff (a state requirement states that teachers in reading and math may be “retained only if at least 65 percent of their students achieved learning gains on average over a three-year period.”) And the grades determine a school’s public reputation, either elevating the school’s image in its community or smearing it for the next 12 months, if it gets a D or an F. (Two years ago Flagler’s schools all scored an A. They have not repeated the feat, however.)
“Given the gravity of the decisions which hang in the balance,” the superintendents wrote, we strongly request a thorough review of this data as soon as possible.”
The St. Petersburg Times reported that Smith was standing by the results, but “has asked another examiner to look at the concerns the districts outlined” in their letter.
“We wholeheartedly want to preserve its integrity. But in fairness to students and teachers, we feel that the state must conduct a thorough review of the year’s scores, which cannot be explained by natural fluctuations,” Hillsborough Superintendent Mary Ellen Told the Times. “For school accountability to work, it is essential that parents, teachers and the public, as well as school superintendents, have confidence in the fairness and accuracy of the test results.”
The letter was signed by MaryEllen Elia of Hillsborough County, Ed Pratt-Dannals of Duval, James Notter of Broward, Alberto Carvalho of Miami-Dade, and Jackie Pons of Leon.