Politics

FCAT Writing Scores Plummet, Force Question: What to Do?

By: Michael Peltier News Service of Florida | Posted: May 15, 2012 3:55 AM
Preliminary grades on a ramped up statewide writing assessment are so bad that state education officials said Monday they will hold an emergency meeting Tuesday to figure out what to do next.

Passing scores on the FCAT writing assessment plummeted from 81 percent to 27 percent for fourth graders and showed similar drops in eighth and 10th grades, according to statewide results of the FCAT writing assessment released by the Department of Education.

Passing scores in eighth grade fell from 82 percent to 33 percent. Tenth graders taking the test saw a similar drop in success. While 80 percent passed the test last year, only 38 percent scored a 4 or above on a 6-point scale this time around.

Education officials Monday blamed the plummeting scores on a handful of factors including more rigorous standards. Now, the State Board of Education has to determine what to do with the scores, which have been used to determine school grades.

Failing schools are required to put in place certain remedial programs that cost more to provide in already tight budget times.

Among the changes made over the past two years, this year's tests were graded by two reviewers. Test standards were also raised to include more attention to writing conventions like punctuation, capitalization and grammar. The pool of test takers was also expanded to include lower performing students.

The combination proved problematic.

"When the increased threshold of 4.0 was established by rule, the State Board of Education did not have, and could not have had, impact data that would reflect how the scoring rules changes would impact student results and the school grade calculations," the Department wrote in a justification for holding an emergency meeting Tuesday to discuss a plan of action.

"Based on preliminary results of the 2012 writing assessment, 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."

In the short term, the board is proposing to lower the passing threshold from 4.0 to 3.5 -- a reduction that would dramatically increase the number of students having passing scores, but the number would still be significantly less than the 2011 scores.

Under the lower standards, 48 percent of fourth graders, 52 percent of eighth graders and 60 percent of 10th graders would have passed the test. Though improved, the passing percentage is still at least 20 points lower than 2011 scores.

Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the Florida Education Association, said the dramatically lower scores point to the shortfalls of relying on such high stakes tests for funding and student assessment.

"There have been a lot of parents over the years who have been unhappy with the assessments," Pudlow said. "Hopefully this will give us a real opportunity to see how we should evaluate students and evaluate teachers."

The advocacy group FundEducationNow.org slammed the state education bureaucracy, saying the swing in grades shows that the FCAT is a "multimillion-dollar sham."

Tags: News, Politics

Comments (8)

AnnoyedEighthGrader
11:05PM MAY 15TH 2012
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.
jdmeth
4:43PM MAY 16TH 2012
Re AnnoyedEigthGrader. You are quite the writer, how is it you seem to have all the skills needed to ace the FCAT while your peers are clueless? How did you learn all the prerequisites and they learned very little? Let me guess, white, collage educated parents, go to church regularly?
AnnoyedEighthGrader
11:41PM MAY 18TH 2012
Hi, jdmeth. I'll be honest with you; I have absolutely no idea. Perhaps I possess such skills because I'm an avid reader, devouring books at every opportunity. Or perhaps it's because I write whenever possible, even about the most mundane aspects of life. Maybe I'm just lucky; I really don't know. However, I found out my FCAT writing score recently. Yes, I received a 6; the only 6 in my school. Five students received 5s. My grade is rather large, approximately 500 students. And while my answers to your questions are yes, yes (collEge educated), and no, I don't think they're completely relevant. Many of the other 400-some students in my school would've responded "yes" to all three of your questions, yet only six of us scored a 5 or higher. Thank you for your thoughtful acknowledgement of my comment.
shirley wood
7:57PM MAY 15TH 2012
The state keeps changing the standards, then critisizes the teachers when the children do not meet those standards. For years teachers have been told to ignore grammar and writing conventions when scoring students' writing, yet now this year they include this in the scoring criteria. this is not a reflection that students writing abilties have changed. If scored with the same standards as last year the scores would not have fallen. This just ensures those who have a job training teachers that their jobs will still be there. Teachers have known all along that grammar and conventions were important and should be included in the assessment, but were told not to include these. Now they are being made to look incompet
etent for doing this.
mka
8:18AM MAY 15TH 2012
This is simple retaliation by the teachers unions to punish Rick Scott.
He made them pay for part of their pension and they do not care about the kids as long as Rick gets his .
CBrock
5:22PM MAY 15TH 2012
This shows that you are uninformed. I am a parent of a physically challenged child. I am also a Republican that actually supports the governor. With that being said - the state has gone ahead and developed an evaluation system that sets the teachers up to fail, thus substantiating the state itself for not giving a merit increase to those that deserve it. In St. Lucie County there is an "A" school that upon recent evaluation has posted a 2.3 out of a five average for the teaching staff. How does a school of teachers with a 2.3 get an "A" standing? Does that mean those schools with a "C" rating have teachers evaluated at a "0.8"? There are clear improprieties, first with the FCATS, and now with the evaluation system. Some one somewhere is getting a hand under the table - and it's not the teachers. For sure there are teachers out there that should not be in this field - those are the ones we want to. This is a bad message for everyone involved, less the administrators - so get your facts straight!
Mry
10:57AM MAY 15TH 2012
The teachers did not take the test. Teachers now have a value added piece to their yearly assessment. Why would they have the students flunk the test and then take part of those scores into their value added model under the TEAM assessment? This is a political game. Money drives standardized testing.
Flatch
10:36AM MAY 15TH 2012
Mka -

Obviously you don't know what you're talking about. You must be part of the Rick Scott fan club.

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