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FCAT Writing Results Are In: Big, and In Some Cases “Abnormal” Improvements

| May 4, 2011

flagler county 4th and 8th grade results fcat writing

© FlaglerLive Graphic. Note: the PHA in the 8th grade chart should actually read PA, for Pathways, the district's alternative school, as opposed to PHA (Palm Harbor Academy, the charter school). Click on the image for larger view.

The Florida Department of Education released the first of several batches of FCAT scores today: Results of writing tests for 4th, 8th and 10th graders, which show marked, and in some cases unusual, improvements in almost every Flagler County school and across the state.

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In fourth grade, 81 percent of students scored a 4 or better on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment test’s six-point scale, up from 68 percent. “You don’t usually see something like that,” Jim Devine, the Flagler school district’s assessment and accountability coordinator, said Wednesday. “It’s a huge increase, it’s very abnormal to have that large of an increase. The good news is that in the district we made the increases as well.”

District-wide, 81 percent of 4th graders earned a 4 or better, up from 73 percent last year. The mean score in the county was 4.2, compared to 4 last year. Some 1,000 students were tested this year, about 30 more than last year.

Every school improved, some dramatically so: at Belle Terre Elementary and Rymfire Elementary, 94 percent of students scored a 4, up from 77 percent at Belle Terre last year and 73 percent at Rymfire.

The charter schools improved their 4th grade scores as well: from 23 percent getting a 4 last year at Heritage Academy to 60 percent this year, and from 45 percent at Palm Harbor Academy to 58 percent this year. Only Imagine School at Town Center declined, from 63 percent last year to 58 percent this year.

Among 8th graders, success rates increased slightly at Indian Trails Middle School and Buddy Taylor Middle School, but the overall district success rate of 79 percent with a 4 or above was three points below the state rate of 82 percent. That’s definitely a red flag for us,” Devine said.

Among the charter schools, the rate at Imagine stayed flat, at 68 percent, it rose slightly at Heritage, though the number of students tested was less than 20.

Among high school students, improvements were slight–from 76 to 79 percent getting a 4 or better at Matanzas High School, and from 75 to 78 percent at Flagler Palm Coast High School. The district average was three points better than the state’s. (The district had originally reported FPC’s percentage at 77 percent. It corrected that figure Thursday.)

© FlaglerLive Graphic

Devine says 4th graders this year were tested on expository skills, as opposed to narrative skills last year. There are slight differences in the two tests, but he said on the whole, the numbers are comparable–even though, from year to year, comparing one group of 4th graders to another isn’t entirely fair: they’re not the same students, it’s not the same test, and the circumstances are different. Nevertheless, the state does make the comparisons and weighs a school’s grade based in part on those comparative scores.

Middle schoolers were tested on expository skills both years. High school students were tested on expository skills this year, and persuasive skills last year.

Students never know from year to year whether they’ll be tested on their expository or narrative skills: teachers are responsible for preparing them for both. The state randomly chooses between the two tests.

Another caveat in the scoring: until last year, two people scored each writing test–a subjective scoring system quite different from the multiple-choice tests with results that are either right or wrong. Applying two scorers to each test was to reduce the subjectivity factor. Last year, to save money, the state eliminated one of the two scorers, so that every test is now scored by just one person.

Writing scores count for only 12.5 percent of a school’s eventual grade, once all FCAT and other factors are calculated. In high school, the writing score counts for even less. In coming weeks, the state will release results of high school “re-take” exams–for those high school students trying to pass the FCAT to graduate. That’ll be followed by the reading and math test results.

Note: in the graphics, the acronyms for schools in Flagler County represent the following schools:

BTES: Belle Terre Elementary
RES: Rymfire Elementary
WES: Wadsworth Elementary
BES: Bunnell Elementary
OKES: Old Kings Elementary
ITMS: Indian Trails Middle School
BTMS: Buddy Taylor Middle School
MHS: Matanzas High School
FPC: Flakler Palm Coast High School
PA: Pathways (district’s alternative school)
HER: Heritage Academy
PHA: Palm Harbor Academy
ISTC: Imagine School at Town Center

8 Responses for “FCAT Writing Results Are In: Big, and In Some Cases “Abnormal” Improvements”

  1. Jim Guines says:

    Mr. Jim Devine made the statement of the year you do not see test results like this as the gaines are too great to be real, I really would thjink that he would earn his salary if he could tell me and others in the community what they mean. This is one of the school tasks we may need another SENIOR DIRECTOR to help us out. A lot of the people who work with this program in the state department of education have resigned.

  2. Lucine says:

    An awe-inspiring job by our phenomenal and under-appreciated PUBLIC schools here in Flagler County!

  3. dlf says:

    Does this list contain all the schools in Flagler County or just the schools that had positive gains? If not we should see the complete list before we jump on any band wagon.

  4. Citizen says:

    The Phoenix Academy fourth graders must be combined with the Wadsworth Elementary results, correct?

  5. Tom Brown says:

    Optimists will say Florida’s school kids have improved; pessimists will say the tests have been dumb downed, either accidentally or deliberately. It would be helpful to have more technical background on how the tests are created, whether they are a Florida-only product, or are they based on a national test, which would give them more credibility. These results would be more plausible if it turns out Florida kids are also doing better on SATs and other national exams.

  6. Liana G says:

    ‘Another caveat in the scoring: until last year, two people scored each writing test….Last year, to save money, the state eliminated one of the two scorers, so that every test is now scored by just one person.’ Hmmm.. . . . . forgive me if I’m not convinced nor impressed.

    I’m going to borrow Mr Devine’s favorite phrase and say ““It’s a huge increase, it’s very abnormal to have that large of an increase.” He said the same thing last year when one of my kids went from a high 4 on the FCAT Math to a mid 2 the following year, though her FCAT Reading score remained at a high 4. That same year, FCAT Math scores increased tremendously across the district – except for my kid – while Reading declined rather drastically, except for my child. Flagler was one of several districts that questionied the results. Which begs the question: How can students do so well in Math when they lack general comprehension, especially when the Math is made up of mostly word problems?

    Of course, I never heard back from Mr Devine, typical of this District, so no surprise there. That’s gov’t for you too! No accountability to the tax payers who pay their salary! Dr Guines, I completely support what you’re asking. Hopefully, the more we, tax payers, keep asking, we will finally be able to get some answers.

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