Most FCAT Scores Little Changed from Last Year

By: Bill kaczor, Associated Press
By: Bill kaczor, Associated Press

Tallahassee, FL - Most statewide reading and math results on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test changed little from 2010, but that was expected because a new scoring scale is not yet ready to measure tougher standards tested for the first time this year, state education officials said Monday.

For the portions of this year's FCAT written to old standards,
scores were up in science in all grades but down slightly for
10th-grade math.

The rest of what's being called FCAT 2.0 has content matching
new and more rigorous reading and math standards, but those
sections were graded based on the old standards, said Kris
Ellington, deputy commissioner for accountability, research and
measurement.

"There's no news at the state level," Ellington said. "Next year there will be because we'll have new achievement level cut scores. We'll have new expectations for how much students should know and be able to do."

She compared a formula linking the new content to the old scoring scheme to grading on a curve.

While that doesn't allow for a meaningful comparison of statewide scores to last year's results, it does permit fluctuations and valid comparisons at the district, school and student levels, Ellington said.

This year's results also will be used to establish a new grading
formula after consultation with hundreds of educators and policymakers, she said. It's expected to be presented to the State
Board of Education for approval in November. The 2011 results then
can be retrofitted to the new grading system for comparison with
next year's scores.

"This year's more of a conclusion of where we have been, and
next year's the beginning of the new FCAT 2.0 work," said Education Commissioner Eric Smith. "What we're going through right now is a very planned, very deliberative process to transition from the old FCAT to the new FCAT 2.0."

Smith said there's been no repeat of problems that delayed
scores in 2010 and resulted in penalties against the state's FCAT
provider, Bloomington, Minn.-based NCS Pearson, then in the first
year of its four-year contract.

"This year has been on time and delivered with great quality,"
Smith said.

The state also has beefed up its monitoring and some school
level results were not reported due to anomalies, Ellington said.
The monitoring showed they had a "one in a trillion chance" of
getting the rejected scores, but school districts can appeal, she
said.

Besides the old-standards science and 10th-grade math results,
the Department of Education released FCAT 2.0 scores for fourth-
through 10th-grade reading and fourth- through eighth-grade math.
Scores for third-grade reading and math and writing for all tested
grades previously had been released.

Third-graders must pass the reading exam to advance to fourth
grade. High school students must pass the 10th grade FCAT to
graduate.

FCAT scores also determine school grades, which are expected to
be released in about a month. High performing schools can reap cash rewards. Failing grades can result in staff changes and other
penalties.

The test will take on additional importance in 2014 when a new
merit pay plan for teachers goes into effect. FCAT and other test
scores will be a key factor in determining which teachers qualify
for performance raises.

The old-standards math results showed 71 percent of 10th-graders
scored at or above grade level, a drop of 2 percentage points from
last year.

Students are tested on science at three grade levels. This year,
51 percent of fifth-graders scored at or better than their grade
level, an improvement of 2 percentage points. For eighth-graders it
was 46 percent, a 3 percentage point improvement, and for
11th-graders it was 40 percent, up 2 percentage points.

Smith said the science results were encouraging but "still far
too low." He said new standards being implemented in the classroom for next year's science tests should help students improve their performance.

"The previous standards were a mile wide and an inch deep,"
Smith said. "These are much more narrowly defined and go into a
deeper understanding of the concepts we expect kids to be able to
perform on."

Smith, though, won't be around to see the results.

The commissioner, recently praised by a Florida Senate resolution for his "visionary leadership," has resigned effective Friday under pressure from Gov. Rick Scott. The State Board of Education has not yet hired a replacement.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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