Lowering the Bar: Education Board Changes FCAT Scoring

By: Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida Email
By: Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida Email

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, May 16, 2012

Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida

To avoid a precipitous drop in student scores the Florida Board of Education on Tuesday lowered the passing grade on a statewide writing test in an effort to insulate schools from a decline that would affect school funding.

Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson responds to the question of whether the Department of Education is eating crow after its board lowers standards for the FCAT writing test. During an interview with reporters, he talks about whether the dramatic drop in writing scores, and the move to lower the passing grade as a result, undermines confidence in Florida's standardized testing system and what he would say to students discouraged by this latest problem with the FCAT.

Meeting in an emergency session, the board agreed to lower the passing grade from 4.0 to 3.0 on the FCAT writing assessment for the current school year after statewide numbers showed the passing rate fell through the floor, dropping in fourth grade from 81 percent to 27 percent.

Eighth and 10th graders experienced similar drops in writing grades.

The emergency rule will be in effect for 90 days. The board will address permanent rules within that time.

But even with the lower standards, more students this year will not receive a satisfactory score, a drop in success that state education officials say is prompted by tougher testing criteria and the fact that each test was scored by two people.

The Department of Education took some responsibility for the drop, saying it did not adequately prepare schools and teachers for more rigorous standards that were put in place this year, which included an increased focus on grammar and punctuation.

Instead the new standard appears to have been rushed, which led to the dramatic increase in unsatisfactory scores.

"This conversation should have come up earlier," DOE Secretary Gerard Robinson acknowledged. "We’ll do better going forward."

School specific writing scores will not be out until at least the end of the week, leaving many districts in limbo as they wait to see if their schools will garner the necessary scores to keep the overall school grade from dropping, which has financial implications for already cash-strapped districts.

Rep. Ron Saunders, R-Key West, and Mark Pudlow of the Florida Education Association react to a significant drop in FCAT writing scores.

Passing scores on the FCAT writing assessment for fourth graders plummeted from 81 percent to 27 percent. 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.

At the 3.0 threshold, 81 percent of fourth graders, 77 percent of eighth graders and 84 percent of 10th graders passed the test.

Some board members reluctantly supported the lower standards, but made it clear they would not continue to do so. School scores are expected to be out by the end of the week.

"The change from 4.0 to 3.0 looks like we are lowering standards," said John Padget. "I'm only voting on this so we can hold (schools) harmless for this year only:"

Other board members, however, said the lower scores are not a reflection of student aptitude, but a change in scoring that has raised the bar.

"This is absolutely not a retreat," said vice chairman Roberto Martinez. "It is maintaining the equivalence with last year, we're just using a much more rigorous application of the scoring rubric."

The test score drop became the vehicle for parents, teachers and local administrators to vent on the FCAT writing test and testing in general. The board took numerous calls from parents who said the high stakes tests are stressing out their kids.

Teachers said they were not given an adequate heads up on what the new criteria would mean.

"We literally didn't receive much information at all," said Holly Wallace, a writing teacher. "We were a little out of touch as far as what exactly the expectations were."

Leon County Superintendent Jackie Pons, worried that contrary to the board's assertion that school districts would not be penalized by the new standards, many school districts would still see their school grades fall based on the results of the writing assessment.

Despite the lower standard, some districts will still be adversely affected. School grades are partially determined by FCAT scores. Schools that perform poorly must divert resources to fixing the problem, which takes funds away from other areas.

The low scores brought concern from the top as well. Gov. Rick Scott, in a sharply worded statement Monday, said the lower scores were of great concern.

"The significant contrast in this year's writing scores is an obvious indication that the Department of Education needs to review the issue and recommend an action plan so that our schools, parents, teachers and students have a clear understanding of the results," Scott said.

Critics of FCAT testing also used the opportunity to take their shots.

"Florida’s overemphasis on testing is insane," said former state Sen. Dan Gelber. "We have become a school system whose entire purpose seems to be to prepare kids for minimal competence tests."


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  • by M. Edward Triefler Location: Tamarac, FL on May 23, 2012 at 10:00 AM
    The first problem is the reduced funding and the firing of teachers thanks to Gov. Scott. The second problem is texting and the biggest problem are the illiterate parents. How can we possibly have smart children when we have dumb parents? We must educate the parents. One way would be to send home a report card with two grades, one for the children the other for the parents. In addition, require, as a condition of continued enrollment, the signature of the parents and the child. Let's see how an embarrassed parent reacts to having to sign a failing Report Card.
  • by Fed up Location: Tlh on May 16, 2012 at 04:49 PM
    Keep dumbing everything down. It is already in the pits. They play with cell phones all day, do no homework, can't read, write or spell. If you think any of them has mastered arithmetic, ask them a simple question about your order at a cash register and see what kind of answer you get. Throwing more money in this bottomless pit does not solve a single problem.
  • by Bring back Phys Ed on May 16, 2012 at 04:44 PM
    I recommend watching the new HBO documentary entitled "Weight of the Country." Our kids are too fat, sedentary, obsessed by video games, and, apparently, dumb. In Texas, the Comptroller funded an experiment where phys ed was reinstituted in middle schools, and the children lost weight and became engaged in activity. Further, their testing scores increased. Their ability to focus also increase, and these skills help take those standardized tests.
    • reply
      by In agreement on May 24, 2012 at 08:59 AM in reply to Bring back Phys Ed
      I completely agree with you. I do however this is important to consider the kind of food we're feeding out children in this country, especially in public schools. The kids don't want to eat healthy food so we should make them!
  • by ddd Location: tally on May 16, 2012 at 04:08 PM
    Years ago FAMU had the Highest Failure Rate THEN, they Lowered there Standards and with in 1 Year the had one of the Highest number of Grads. SO if you need to how just how to Lower the Standards, ask FAMU.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on May 16, 2012 at 05:30 PM in reply to ddd
      You mean they lowered "their" standards. Maybe you ought to raise your standards.
      • reply
        by ddd on May 16, 2012 at 05:51 PM in reply to
        I already have HIGH Standards......thats why I would NEVER go to FAMU.
  • by Leaf Location: Tallahassee on May 16, 2012 at 01:55 PM
    Curriculum is based on the standards (NGSSS), so teachers' lesson plans should be based on the NGSSS too. The FCAT tests are also based on the NGSSS. The FCAT should just be a part of the school-year schedule. No "teaching to the test" is required or should be happening. Teach to the standards; take the test. No big deal. The teaching of grammar, spelling, capitalization, etc., should be a part of all lessons in every subject. If students were receiving regular feedback and guidance about those things, the scores wouldn't have dropped so far. Why would teachers need to be told to start emphasizing those things when those things should be a part of every school day?
    • reply
      by Anonymous on May 16, 2012 at 07:34 PM in reply to Leaf
      It's clear you're not a classroom teacher.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on May 17, 2012 at 01:20 AM in reply to Leaf
      Can't get in the leftist FTPNEA agenda items when you simply teach to the standards of the NGSSS.
  • by The Taxpay Yours on May 16, 2012 at 09:35 AM
    Build more prisons.......!
  • by Denise Location: Tall on May 16, 2012 at 09:27 AM
    This seems to be a legal way to falsify records. Dumb down the test so we can get money. Never mind if it's good for the students or not.
  • by Denise Location: Tallahassee on May 16, 2012 at 09:18 AM
    Until FCAT is gone and teachers are allowed to teach basic skills in elementary school - Florida is going to continue to be at the bottom. Everyone needs to take a look at the Go Math that they teach in Leon County for elementary students. If you can get someone to even let you see a book because kids are not allowed to even bring it home. IT IS HORRIBLE. Kids are so confused it is not even funny and giving tests in math where the teacher reads the question and the student has to just answer it not even see the written question on a math test - Insane. Elementary students should be getting a good foundation and build from that point and it is NOT happening in public schools. My mom is a retired elementary teacher and I went and use to firmly believe in public education. My child now attends a private school. Financially it is very difficult but the education he was receiving in Leon County was horrible. Parents need to open their eyes and really take a look at what their kids are being taught. You can not tell me that kids today are getting a better education that I received when teachers were allowed to truly teach - NO WAY.
  • by observer on May 16, 2012 at 09:17 AM
    Gosh - who would have expected this would happen?? (note sarcasm here) Folks, this is how Republicans control populations to maintain people stupid enough to vote for them. Bush's "no child left behind" and the current FCAT programs do NOTHING to foster real education. Teachers (and don't blame them, like idiot "Brandon" has) are forced to "teach to the test"; i.e., teach kids how to pass the standard tests and not really educate them. The result? Kids who might pass the FCAT, but have no usable, workable knowledge about the real world - prime picking for (modern) Republican neocons to influence, since these kids are not taught logic, skeptical thinking or real science - or how to write, speak or read English. Now, the kids are so poorly prepared they can't even pass these tests. And they want to "lower the bar" ... oh, wow! And Criminal Scott wants to take away more money from education ... the modern Republican Way.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on May 17, 2012 at 01:26 AM in reply to observer
      "Criminal Scott" put many state programs and people in severe financial crunch mode so that we could INCREASE the funding for education. You are an idiot for making such a stupid comment and probably a teacher in our system getting merit pay, because you mimic the FTPNEA talking points and excuses!
  • by Pam Location: Tally on May 16, 2012 at 09:00 AM
    I think the board education should revamp all standards of education. For Example, why is Algebra a mandatory subject? Mandatory subjects should only include basics...Reading, Writing, English, Basic Mathematics, Science, and history. If a student elects algebra then this will goes towards his/her academics measures... FCAT scoring should relevant to these subjects. Really, how many us use higher subjects once we graduate from high school or higher education?
    • reply
      by anon on May 16, 2012 at 12:27 PM in reply to Pam
      what world do you live in where you don't use algebra?
    • reply
      by Anonymous on May 16, 2012 at 02:28 PM in reply to Pam
      Algebra is junior high math and so is not rocket science. If your child can't do algebra, that sounds like an emergency to me.
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