[UPDATE] Florida Education Board Votes to Lower FCAT Benchmark

By: Deneige Broom, Eyewitness New, Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida Email
By: Deneige Broom, Eyewitness New, Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida Email


TALLAHASSEE, FL -- May 15, 2012 –

The Florida State Board of Education today adopted a new performance level standard for FCAT Writing. The performance level standard used for the purpose of calculating school grades for the 2011-12 school year will be a 3.0 on a scale of 6.0.

Today’s action was a result of reviewing preliminary scores that indicated significantly lower student performance based on an increased focus on writing conventions, such as grammar, and the quality of details provided as support when writing an essay. In reviewing the preliminary results, Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson recognized the considerable variance and brought it to the attention of the board.

On May 10 when the final FCAT Writing results became available to the Department of Education, the State Board of Education decided to hold an emergency meeting to consider how to move forward with calculating school grades for this year. While at the state level the State Board of Education does not set FCAT Writing grade level or passing standards for students, writing scores are factored into school grades and families may make school choice decisions based on school grades during the summer months.

“The strength of Florida’s economy and our children’s futures depend on our ability to prepare all students for success after high school, in college, in the workplace, and in life,” said Commissioner Gerard Robinson. “Florida’s children do not know less than before. Rather, we’ve raised our standards and expectations. Today, we are asking more of our children and more of our teachers than we ever have. It’s clear in that we must do a better job of communicating student expectations to educators and parents so they can better prepare students to be successful.”

The sequence of events that led to today’s vote follows:

· In spring 2010 the Florida legislature required that the Florida school grade writing standard be a score a student can earn.
· In May 2011, on the recommendation of a previous Commissioner of Education the State Board of Education set the school grade standard for FCAT Writing at 4.0 up from 3.5 since there was only one scorer and it was not possible to earn a half point.
· The State Board asked that the legislative budget request include a return to two scorers for each essay, which was implemented in 2012.
· In July 2011, school districts were notified of a change in the scoring of FCAT Writing for school year 2012 regarding the correct use of standard English conventions and the quality of details provided as support. The Department also posted sample writing papers illustrating the change in expectations and in August 2011 posted scoring guides for school district use at http://www.fldoe.org/arm.

As the Department of Education continues to review 2012 assessment results, the State Board of Education will look at additional data and information related to the calculation of school grades.

About the Florida Department of Education: The department’s mission is to increase the proficiency of all students within one seamless, efficient education system by providing them the chance to expand their knowledge and skills through world-class learning opportunities. Serving more than 3.5 million students, 4,200 public schools, 28 colleges, 188,000 teachers, 47,000 college professors and administrators, and 318,000 full-time staff throughout the state, the department enhances the economic self-sufficiency of Floridians through programs and services geared toward college, workforce education, job-specific skills and career development. Florida ranks first in the nation for teacher quality, first in the nation in advanced placement participation, and first in the southern region for graduation rate and degrees awarded by the Florida College System. For more information, visit www.fldoe.org.


“Yesterday’s vote by the State Board of Education to recalibrate the school grading scale of the FCAT Writing test was done in response to a tougher grading system that appropriately expects our students to understand proper punctuation, spelling and grammar. The Board acted after it became clear that students were posting significantly lower scores under newer, tougher writing standards.

“We are asking more from our students and teachers than we ever have. I believe it is appropriate to expect that our students know how to spell and how to properly punctuate a sentence. Before this year, those basics were not given enough attention, nor did we give enough attention to communicating these basic expectations to our teachers. I support the Board’s decision to recalibrate the school grading scale while keeping the writing standards high.”


Tallahassee, FL - May 15, 2012 - 5:45p.m. by Deneige Broom

Educators in Florida are fuming about the FCAT writing scores.

Leon County Schools Superintendent, Jackie Pons, said the state has made great strides in getting its students up to par for the exam and that this hurts that progress.

"I really think the credibility of the test is on the line when it comes to this," said Pons. "I think there's problems with this test."

He was one of hundreds listening in on an emergency conference call held by Florida's Board of Education, Tuesday, because of the dramatic drop in FCAT Writing scores.

About 600,000 4th, 8th and 10th graders took the writing exam this year.

Only a third of them scored a 4, which was the performance level set by the state.

Last year, between 70 and 80 percent of students hit that mark.

Amy Brown is a grandmother in Tallahassee who thinks students and teachers need more support.

"I think they should maybe get together and maybe come up with more ideas to help the children," said Brown. "Maybe even educate the parents more."

This year the test didn't change but how they were graded did.

Spelling, punctuation and capitalization were scrutinized more than in the past.

Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson says students don't pass or fail the FCAT Writing test. When judging how students, schools, and ultimately the state fared, they look at how many students achieved the desired "performance level".

For the 2012 exam, the acceptable performance level was bumped up from a score of 3.5 where it was before, to a 4.

However, Tuesday during that emergency call, education officials decided to lower the threshold.

For the 2012 year alone, the acceptable performance level will sit at a 3.0.

Board members say the intent, is to keep school districts from being harmed by the lower scores.

In 2011, 81% of 4th graders scored a 4 or higher on the writing exam, 82% of 8th graders scored a 4 or above and 75% of 10th graders did.

In 2012, 27% of 4th graders scored a 4 or higher on the writing exam, 33% of 8th graders scored a 4 or above and 38% of 10th graders did.

By lowering the performance level, Commissioner Robinson said the results would be more in line with last year.

In 2012, 81% of 4th graders scored a 3 or higher on the writing exam, 77% of 8th graders scored a 3 or above and 84% of 10th graders received a 3 or higher.

Some educators and parents like Terry Paul, say lowering the benchmark is not the answer.

"I think the teachers put a lot of pressure on them because the teachers themselves are getting a lot of pressure to score well on it," said Paul. "I think we need to find some type of standardized testing that can be favorable to all people involved."

Commissioner Robinson said during the call that he felt things had fallen through the cracks with the Department of Education. He then specified, saying he didn't think they communicated adequately with the school districts, what would be expected of the students based on the more stringent criteria.

Robinson said the reading and math scores that will come out by the beginning of June, will also cause an outcry because they expect those scores to drop as well.

Individual writing scores for the districts should be available later this week.

Tallahassee, Florida - May 15, 2012 - Noon

FCAT Writing scores are out and people throughout the state are upset about them. The number of students who passed the test dropped dramatically.

The Florida Board of Education held an emergency conference call this morning. In the first minute of that call, there was a motion to lower the performance level score from a four to a three.

The panel called the for emergency meeting after preliminary results showed only about a third of students had passed. That's down from 80% or better on last year's writing portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT.

The dramatic decrease is the result of changes that made the test more difficult and raised the passing grade from 3.5 to 4 on a scale of 0 to 6. The emergency rule will drop the passing grade to 3.5. The drop is expected to increase the number of students passing the exam to 48% for 4th grade, 53% of 8th grade and 60% for 10th grade.


Tallahassee, Florida - May 15, 2012 - 11:15am

Preliminary grades on a ramped up statewide writing assessment are so bad that state education officials held an emergency meeting to figure out what to do next.

Education officials have decided to lower the FCAT grading standards.

Stay with WCTV for much more on this story.


Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida

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 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 "multi-million dollar sham."


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - May 14, 2012 -

Preliminary results show a dramatic decline in writing scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

The State Board of Education on Monday responded by scheduling an emergency conference call meeting for Tuesday to consider reducing the passing grade.

The board previously made this year's test more difficult. It increased expectations for the correct use of punctuation, capitalization, spelling, and sentence structure as well as the quality of details used to explain, clarify, or define.

The preliminary results show only 27 percent of 4th graders received a passing score of 4 or better compared to 81 percent last year.

For 8th graders it was 33 percent -- down from 82 percent in 2011. For 10th graders it was 38 percent -- a drop from 80 percent last year.

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