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

  1. Abbey Streicher Cooke says:

    Merit Pay = Lower Scores Assigned by State

    NOT a coincidence!

  2. Nancy Girouard Perry says:

    I would like to take the FCAT. Wonder what I would get.

  3. Trish Sweeton says:

    Now if only the government would let teachers teach, not just the FCAT.

  4. Tommy Gee says:

    I’d like to see the politicians take the test. Let’s base the next election of their scores. Fair enough?

    • Robin Evans says:

      Or how about we let third graders decide how well they are doing? Here’s a thought, teachers graded on how they teach…

  5. Liana G says:

    So, if the FCAT 2.0 is a gradual inching up to the Common Core Standards, then there is either cause for grave concerns or people are actually doing the right thing instead of manipulating students’ real scores. This I can live with. At least I know what I am realistically dealing with.

  6. Jonathan Haydak says:

    I find this to be quite entertaining.

    So I did a search for FCAT writing scores for 2010 and came up with this

    Before I do a brief data analysis, I would first like to complain about the choice of bin size used to report the data. They used intervals of 1, but actual FCAT grades are based on scales with an interval of .5. I don’t know how they rounded the intermediate values in this data, but I’m going to assume that they rounded up so that a 4.5 would be counted as a 5 and so on.

    Now, let’s take a closer look at the data. When we do this, we see that the values reported in the data column for “Percent Score 4 and above” is the sum of the tables for scores 4, 5, and 6. This means that a score of 3.5 is included in this count, so the actual value in the “Percent Score 4 and Above is INFLATED.

    For the sake of simplicity, let’s say that the distribution of students in any particular score is roughly equally distributed between that score and the score .5 points below it. (ie, if 40% score a 5, let’s say 20% scored a 5, 20% scored a 4.5). After we assume this, we can look at the mean and roughly determine whether more people got the 5 or more people got the 4.5. (Note: This method is far from perfect. The data presented for the FCAT scores is also far from perfect).

    Based on this data, in 2011:

    5 + 24 + 46*.5 = ~52.25 of 10th graders got a score of 4 or above. The overall mean is 4.0, so this means that there was probably a few more 4s than 3.5s, so this number should probably be a tiny bit higher.

    5+30+47*.5 = ~58.5% of 8th graders got a score of 4 or above. The overall mean is 4.2, so this means that there was probably a few more 4s than 3.5s, so this number should probably be a tiny bit higher.

    3+22+56*.5 = ~53.25% of 4th graders got a score of 4 above. The overall mean is 4.0, so like the other two this means there are probably a few more 4s than 3.5s, so this number should probably be a bit higher.

    So if the 4.0 change had been imposed last year, these are the approximate pass rates that we would have seen. So, all things being equal, we should expect roughly the same results for 2012. However, they also raised the grading standards making it harder to get a 4, so the expected pass rates should be lower than the ones I just reported. How much lower? 5%? 10%? Depends on how much stricter they made their grading, which I challenge anyone to try and quantify.

    Furthermore, the same students are not being tested year to year, so we should expect slight fluctuations between every year. The idea that was shoved down our throats when I was in school in Florida that the average FCAT score should increase each year in each grade is complete garbage.

    Anyways, quick recap: FCAT sucks at reporting data. However, if you look at the proportion of students that scored a legitimate 4.0 and above last year (not 3.5 and below) and factor in the more rigorous grading, I have no idea why anybody is shocked by the sudden collapse in performance. It’s exactly what you should expect.

    • Jonathan Haydak says:

      Actually, I just read this: Beginning in 2010, each essay was scored by one rater. In previous years, two raters were used and the scores were averaged. Prior to 2010, a student could have received a half-point score, such as 4.5; whereas since 2010, no half-point scores are possible. Additionally, beginning in 2010, each student within the same grade level was required to write an essay using the same mode of writing (narrative, expository, or persuasive). In previous years, with the exception of grade 10 in 2008, there were two modes assessed at each grade level with half of the students responding to each mode. For example, the 2010 Grade 4 FCAT Writing required all students to write a narrative essay. In 2009, half of the students wrote a narrative essay, and half of the students were required to write an expository essay.

      So that pretty much invalidates my above argument, but now I’m slightly confused as to why the article is talking about half scores.

  7. Tired HS Teacher says:

    As a teacher for MANY years, if I gave a test and so many students failed, I would know there is something wrong with the TEST I created and I would blame MYSELF for the results! Florida, unfortunately, will not see it this way. They will blame the teachers, the schools, anybody but the Florida Department of Education.

    And keep in mind who is scoring these tests… temporary workers (out-of work folks, people who need an extra couple of books, the recently fired, etc…) , not teachers of writing, but temporary workers who receive only about eight hours of training. They wouldn’t know what “good writing” is if it hit them in the face. Guaranteed, those scoring the writing don’t have to take a writing test first to see how well they read, write or speak English. Read Todd Farley’s excellent book, published a few years ago called, Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry. Here is a guy who worked for 10+ years scoring kids essays for Pearson, and his eye-opening book will take you behind the scenes of these hugely profit-driven companies who are growing rich on testing your kids..

    For the past seven years, more than 90% of my students have passed this FCAT Writes test, and it’s not because it was so easy, either. Try writing an essay in 45 minutes on a topic you care NOTHING about, and which you’ve never seen before, and try making it perfect when you are a nervous kid who has to worry about commas, semi-colons, contractions, apostrophes, run-on sentences, homonyms, quotation marks and more… and don’t forget, then only give you one double-sided sheet of paper, and some kids write so large they run out of room before they even finish!

    Composition involves writing, re-writing, proofreading, editing and more. Writing is mostly about THINKING more than anything else. And kids don’t get to do much thinking in 45 minutes! The essays these kids write are ROUGH FIRST DRAFTS and should be assessed as such. Anyone who thinks polished prose can be produced in 45 minutes by a LEARNER obviously doesn’t know must about the writing process. One year I saw one of my top students freeze on this test (a 15-year-old girl) because she just couldn’t think of anything to write on the topic. She failed the writing test… but later passed AP exams and got top scores on FCAT reading and math! This test tells teachers and parents nothing about students’ abilities.

    If you think Florida is bad, New Jersey’s kids had it worse this year… how would you feel if your child had an essay directing them to “Write about a secret you had and explain why it was so difficult to keep” imagine the can of worms THAT prompt opened up!!!! Parents are screaming bloody murder up there.. and guess what? The same testing company that creates our FCAT writing came up with that asinine writing task for New Jersey’s fourth graders!!!

    • Tom Brown says:

      Thank you for giving us a glimpse at what is going on in the classroom and in the testing factories. Your students are lucky to have you.

  8. Kristen Lyons Cocchi says:

    Wow. I’m curious to see where this will go.

  9. Yellowstone says:

    From a Course Developer’s point of view . . . .

    Criterion Referenced Instruction is designed by 1> establishing what subject matter is taught, 2> how it is supposed to be taught, 3> when it is taught, 4> finally, measure if the information was assimulated by the target audience. (All CD jargon)

    When huge discrepencies exist in the results there are several ways to evaluate the results – usually pointing to those areas that have performed ‘as expected’ – and those that have ‘failed’. (Much like the interpretation of the bell curve).

    Often those that excel are those that have followed the established course design – conversely those that fail failed to follow the design.

    What will inevitably be done is an evaluation of the entire system – sifting out those schools that did well from those that did not achieve. The Evaluator then drills down deeper to to locate the weaknesses; Teacher, school, students, ect.

    Results like these do indicate a failure. If the failure is as wide spread as it seems to be – heads will roll!

  10. Mario DiGirolamo says:

    Close all public schools in Fl, send the kids to Jersey.

  11. real people says:

    that is the typical Communist local and nation wide government we have, keep the parent nose in the mud financially so they to busy to make their living and have no time to notice what their Government or their children doing. I feel bad about my country that Romain empire fowling down faster then 10 ton of bricks , I feel bad about my children and my grandchildren they didn’t get any of our founder’s hard work. For God sake is this America the one we know? I am may by naive. But I love America.

  12. Vincent Neri says:

    A test only has validity if it measures what it says it measures. Who decides the validity of the test? People who are completely imperfect. Education is a lifelong process of preparation to handle all that life may throw at us. The pinnacle of education that one may achieve cannot be captured in awarding a diploma or a degree but rather in answering a simple question. Has the student learned how to learn? However this is a question not fitting for a 4th or 8th grader because we have yet to provide them an opportunity to develop those skills. A person who has the ability to achieve for a lifetime because they have become a lifelong learner is what Florida schools must strive for. However, this desired outcome usually comes with maturity and education beyond the high school level. Intellectual curiosity can only come when someone has become an intellectual. Teaching to pass a test and teaching to create a lifelong learner are two different things.

  13. Vincent Neri says:

    Does the FCAT measure future success?
    Example I

    1. Johnny passed every FCAT exam and graduated from high school in Florida . After graduating from high school he shopped his diploma and landed a job at Wendys.

    2. Janey graduated from high school in a state where the word FCAT is unknown to most. She went on to graduate from college with a degree in Organizational Psychology and is pursuing graduate studies while working at Mercedes Benz.

    Oh I forgot to mention that Mercedes Benz manufacturing is in Alabama because while Florida was focusing on things like FCAT other states were focusing on economic development.

  14. Prescient33 says:

    Testing works when it tests on standardized curricula that are competently taught in all schools. NY has had regents going back for decades, and the state curricula applied in NYC as well as Genesee County. It is when the social engineers strive for equality of results that the wheels come off the bus, as they can’t change the fact that some study harder than others, some have higher IQ’s, etc. Differing results are the norm, not something to be avoided, as each of us have different abilities.
    What these latest results seem to indicate there has been a failure in correlating the curricula with the teaching and testing in FL schools. Spelling is not a subject limited to rocket scientists, nor are acceptable standards of writing only to be found in honors programs, since they have been in use for centuries with relatively few changes. What is wrong is accepting misspellings as “close enough” as some are wont to do these days, or overlooking grammatical errors as you “get the idea” the child is trying to get across. The subjects of spelling and grammatical writing require rote learning, and some think that’s an imposition on the children.
    Indeed, my experience has been that many of the teachers themselves mangle both grammar and spelling in their comments and notes; what do we expect of the kids?

    • Helene says:

      Prescient: I went to high school in NY (Orange County) decades ago. I took regents. I am not sure if the protocol has changed, but “back in the day”, regents was only for college bound students. Students who did not plan on going to college did not take regents courses nor were they subject to the end of the year regents exams. Beginning in their junior year, many of these students were bussed to a nearby trade school for their afternoon classes (BOCES). The regents exams are in no way similiar to the awful FCAT. However, now Florida is instituting end of year exams which would be similiar to the regents (except for the college bound difference). But from what I understand, in the usual ass-backwards Florida way, the state is giving these exams in early May – approx. 6 weeks before the students end their courses. Really, FloriDUH ?!

    • J says:

      People need to see that technology is leading to slack learning. Our students have been learning at a lazy rate because they can just text it or look it up.

      FCAT is not hard it is just our students “do not really care for it”.

      • A Student's Perspective says:

        The second part of your statement is absolutely correct–no matter what other differences a group of randomly selected students may have, there is a very high likelihood that they will be able to agree upon their collective hatred of the FCAT. And I completely agree that the FCAT is not in any way, shape, or form “hard”. I recently had to take said stupid, redundant, ineffective test, and I was insulted by how easy it was.
        However, the first part of your statement couldn’t be farther from the truth. Technology is in reality quite essential to learning in the 21st century. As the educational system currently stands, it is in most cases (I do admit that there are some exceptions, such as the IB program) preparing students for occupations that for the most part no longer exist–those of factory workers or other industrial laborers. This was the work environment that was common when the “modern” educational system was first being developed, so it was logical to build curricula and teaching methods that would fit these occupations.
        Meanwhile, with the advent of publicly available and affordable technology, the world is changing and will continue to do so for many years to come, and any student who has been taught based on a set of fixed criteria and standards will be left in the dust if they do not have the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn the knowledge and skills that are needed for the workplace they will be entering. Technology is not some sort of silly fad that will go away soon without making an impact on the world–it is here to stay, and will shape the world for years to come. How will people deal with this if they don’t know how to use it to their advantage? With the rate of technological advancement as it currently stands, it is more than likely that many current students will end up holding jobs that do not even exist yet, but will be necessary or at least in demand by the time they enter the workforce. And one of the very few things we can predict about these jobs is that they will most certainly not involve regurgitating sets of facts and following set procedures to reach the one “right answer”, but instead value independent thought, critical thinking, and the acceptance that there may not be just one “right answer”, and if there is, it may not be right tomorrow or by the time you graduate.
        Wake up, America. We’re using a 19th century test to prepare the next generation of leaders for a 21st century world. What’s wrong with this picture?

  15. David says:

    I’m all for testing, whether it be FCAT or some other form. Testing is a true way of showing the measurements and progress of a person skills, and achievements in determining one to advance to the next level. Their are far to many restriction placed on educators today to teach the way the system wants them to teach. Why ? I think it is because of the way children are being raised to today. The kids today are brainwashed to believe they are successful at anything they do, and have never been taught to face the responsibility and to be accountable for what they do. The curriculum has been changed so that all will succeed and none will be left behind. The kids today have no ideal what it means to sometimes fail, because parents and educators see to it that this will never t happen. By raising children like this will make them unprepared to go out into the workforce and be aggressive and compete. I read an article recently where a mother of a son in his first year of college called his college professor and demanded that he change his son’s grade on a term paper because the professor was way to harsh in his grading curve. Just an example of what this current generation has turned out to be. My opinion.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. Agnese says:

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

  19. 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?

  20. 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

  21. Aloke K. Bose says:

    From a deeply concerned Grand Parent:
    The Authorities responsible for FCAT need to re-asses as to what is wrong or what went wrong. Is there a “System Failure” which needs to be addressed? The problem needs to be identified and corrective action taken on an emergent basis, particularly as it is probabilistically not possible that all of a sudden School Teachers do not know how to teach and/or the Children do not know how to write a sentence !

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