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."