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Flagler’s FCAT Writing Scores Collapse, a Reflection of Florida’s Tougher Standards

| May 18, 2012

The state changed the standard for students to earn a 4, on a scale of 6, toughening up the writing standards. (c FlaglerLive)

It’s an old tactic PR specialists learn their first day of school: when your organization has no choice but to release bad news, do it on a Friday, and as late as possible. Fewer people are paying attention, and the Saturday papers are the week’s thinnest and least read. The Florida Department of Education flubbed its 2012 FCAT planning dismally–failing, by its officials’ own admissions, of preparing teachers and students for new standards the department was imposing on writing tests. But the department remembered its basic PR lesson well today, finally releasing district0-by-district and school-by-school writing scores for 4th, 8th and 10th grade.

The statewide scores were released earlier this week, showing a precipitous drop across the board, now that a passing in 4th grade grade is no longer a 3, but a 4, on a scale of 6. Even that 4 is scored differently: to earn it, the student must comply with stricter rules of syntax, punctuation, capitalization and so on. Those passing went from 81 percent last year to 27 percent this year. The collapse was almost as steep for 8th and 10th graders.

Flagler County schools’ numbers are not brighter. When comparing the proportion of students who scored a 4 last year to those who scored a 4 this year, Flagler County’s 4th graders went from 85 percent to 38 percent. One bright note: it’s still better than the state average of 27 percent.

But 8th graders did worse, going from 79 percent to 28 percent, five points below the 33 percent state average.

For 10th graders, the mean score across the district fell from 85 percent to 38 percent, 11 points above the state average.

The grades would normally be calculated into school grades. In an emergency meeting this week, the state Board of Education decided to lower the “passing” grade back down to 3–but only in so far as school-wide grades are concerned. For individual students, the so-called “cut score,” or passing grade, is still a 4. And it still leaves teachers and principals with the task of dealing with students’ dashed expectations. Beyond the confusion created by this year’s jagged and uneven standards (a 4 is required to pass writing, but a 3 still passed reading and math), the state’s mishandling of the year’s testing puts in question the validity and credibility of the scores in many educators’ eyes, especially when the scores are laid out side by side, year over year.

Click on the graph for larger view. (c FlaglerLive)

The district did better when comparing this year’s achievement level 3 to last year.s See the chart to the right. On the other hand, in reading scores for 9th and 10th graders, which were also released (and where the passing grade remains 3), the district 10th graders only matched the state average, with 50 percent passing, while 9th graders were one point below the state average, with 51 percent passing.

State and local school board scrambled all week in preparation for today’s release in efforts to manager the news, putting as good a face on the numbers as they could muster.

“The majority of Flagler County Public Schools scored above the state average,” read a news release from Flagler schools. The stand-out was Wadsworth Elementary, where fully 62 percent of 4th graders managed to get a 4 or better, by far the highest proportion of any school at any level in the county (compared to 89 percent last year, under the old standard). The next-closest school at the elementary level was Rymfire, with 40 percent getting a 4 or better. Belle Terre Elementary, always a high-scorer in FCAT in the last few years, had 39 percent of its 4th graders scoring a 4.

“We are proud of how our schools performed and are currently making plans to implement a writing across the curriculum initiative for all grade levels and all subjects to ensure that we are adequately prepared for next year when the state reverts back to the standard of proficiency of 4 and above for writing”, said Superintendent Janet Valentine in the release (which had syntax and punctuation issues of its own, and a misuse of the word contributed, where the word attributed, was the correct usage).

“We do believe that the change in scoring guidelines was a significant contributor to the overall change in the data. However, we also believe that our overall district results indicate that Flagler County students were better prepared for these changes than other students throughout the state,” Assessment Coordinator Shawn Schmidli said.

Old Kings Elementary School scored significantly lower, with just 26 percent of its 4th graders managing a 4 (compared to the district average of 38, and the state average of 27). The school is analyzing its data “to identify strengths and weaknesses,” the district said in its release. “They will then utilize this data to plan for professional development focused on the identified areas weaknesses (sic.).”

“We are asking more from our students and teachers than we ever have, and I am proud of their hard work,” Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said, though he provided little by means of analysis regarding the new numbers. “Florida’s higher standards help ensure students are learning what they are expected to know so that they are prepared for college, career, and life. As Florida transitions to higher standards and higher expectations, we can expect our assessment results to reflect those changes.”

6 Responses for “Flagler’s FCAT Writing Scores Collapse, a Reflection of Florida’s Tougher Standards”

  1. Gia says:

    FCAT prove only one thing, we have more idiot & ignorant then before. Stop pumping tax $$$ in the system. it’s useless kids cant learn anyway, & there are not disciplined & educated at home to raise them properly.
    Private schools does it much better.

  2. Maxx says:

    Can the big bad FCAT not count against us. I bet half of the department of education never even took this test because their probably from a different state, so why are they hurting our grades for something so stupid. Florida schools are the stupidest in the U.S and it’s like the only schools that have this stupid test. If they never get rid of this test can they at least hire teachers that will stop complaining about their sad, boring lives and teach us something. And can they do something about the Teachers Union and fire these stupid teachers. I mean I don’t know what happened. It seemed all fine and dandy in the 80’s, teachers actually helped their students, but now teachers don’t care about anyone but theirselves.


  3. Matanzas Student '13 says:

    Alright, what is this crap? Is this some kind of joke? I’m a student at Matanzas High School and the FCAT is a complete insult to students of Florida. First of all, the FCAT barely measures grammar or even in the sense measures what the SAT standardize. Reading passages? Asking for the main idea? In life, chances are you will use grammar and utilization of syntax more than literature. The math on the FCAT is probably what kids in Europe do in elementary schools! People of Florida, WAKE UP! Wake up to how you treat and expect the students of Florida to perform. If you have low standards for kids, then they will perform poorly. There needs to be a reform in the testing materials that’s leveled up with high expectation than what the FCAT measures. The “alternate solution” or the end of course exam should not take a student more than one day to complete; rather at least 2-3 hours for various subjects. In fact, it is this attitude that makes Florida rank 11/50 states in 2011 as reported by the Orlando Sentinel; a drop from the top ten in 2010. I hope Flagler County school students perform to the highest caliber next year and lead the way by using the county as a standard to the state. Oh yeah and one thing is for sure, I won’t praise the students in this county for their performance. How can you drop by more than 50 points and still be happy? What’s the logic? If the students don’t perform well, then the teachers is to be blame. If the teachers perform to the highest magnitude and the student fail, then it is the student to blame. And if all fail then the county is to blame then it is the State then, finally, the nation. Let’s stop this blame game and complete BS and work together to better the students of this county and state in education. Maybe it’s something like this that contributes to America’s low global education ranking. Wouldn’t be surprise anyways. Would you?

  4. Liana G says:

    Goodness, I didn’t know it was possible for schools to cheat on the writing test too! Hmmm…..

    …”Nearly 300 writing tests were thrown out at Silver Hills Middle School in the Adams 12 Five Star District after Principal Tracy Webber peeked at questions from the upcoming test and then talked to her teachers about them. Webber was demoted to assistant principal but continues to work at another district school, Westlake Middle. Her principal’s license remains active.”…

  5. Out of curiosity says:

    I am very sorry for those who believe our children are stupid and “can’t learn anyway”, you couldnt be more wrong. I don’t believe that is what these scores reveal at all. I believe a careful review of the new exam, the grading procedure and the preparation should all take place. I also wonder if this benefits the company that creates these exams .

  6. Sad Times says:

    I just do not understand the thinking that goes on within the education system in Florida…..I thought that one of the goals was to improve our education system…. not keep stepping backwards!!! We should be increasing expectations of our students…. not lowering the expectations!! My goodness….at the rate we are going….. none of our students “graduating” from our schools will be able to read, write, or add!!!!

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