Governor Scott's Office Involved in FCAT PR Effort

By: Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida
By: Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida


Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida

As the Florida Department of Education tries to handle the fallout of the collapse in FCAT writing scores, the office of Gov. Rick Scott has been intimately involved in efforts to roll out the test scores, according to staff emails.

Showing an interest often reserved for issues like economic development, one of the governor's priorities, Scott's top staff has played a key role in coordinating the state's response after a dramatic drop in test scores prompted a scramble by officials to temporarily lower the passing grade on the writing portion of the assessment.

After a first year in which creating jobs was his stated main priority, Scott has added education to his agenda in the past several months.

The test crisis began when passing scores on the writing test plummeted from 81 percent to 27 percent for fourth graders and showed similar drop in eighth and 10th grades. The Florida Board of Education eventually met in emergency session to lower the passing grade from 4.0 to 3.0 while they develop a longer-term answer.

In the meantime, Scott's office has been closely involved in helping to craft the public-relations effort in the wake of the renewed focus by the governor on public education, including a successful push for $1 billion in new state education funding during the last legislative session.

At one point, the governor's communications team and Carrie O'Rourke, a deputy chief of staff who handles education issues, made extensive comments and suggestions about a press release announcing reading and math scores.

"MORE IMPORTANTLY – what is the takeaway you want the media to have?" wrote Scott communications director Brian Burgess in one email in response to a draft of the press release. "From reading this, it appears you just want the media to know that FCAT results have been released. But why squander an opportunity to point out that we are raising standards? I don’t see that until the second paragraph."

By then, the writing scores were already sparking questions about the move to boost performance and how it might affect schools. The governor's office approved a draft of the press release announcing the change in cut scores for the writing test.

The agency had also sent a plan to Scott's office for handling the FCAT results, a three-page document entitled "Higher Standards: The Right Thing to Do."

The purpose of the plan is "[t]o win support and understanding for higher standards in our state as we move through a volatile period of rolling out the results of new, more rigorous assessments (FCAT 2.0) and higher achievement levels (cut scores)," DOE said in one email.

The department envisioned a "Full-Court Press," including everything from efforts to get letters to the editor written by organizations allied with the governor and DOE, like the Florida Chamber and the Council of 100, to having Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson record on-hold phone messages. The plan also suggested a hash-tag on Twitter.

The blueprint caught the attention of outgoing Chief of Staff Steve MacNamara, who wrote a simple and typically cryptic response to O'Rourke: "Let's discuss..."

Scott's office was also working to head off questions about the job security of Robinson, who got the job after Scott reportedly pushed out former Education Commissioner Eric Smith. The governor's office issued a statement to the Miami Herald in response to a question about whether Robinson was under pressure to resign.

“The Florida Board of Education selected Gerard Robinson after conducting a nationwide search for a commissioner who would bring a reform-based agenda, who is committed to raising Florida’s education standards and the expectations of our students, and I believe Commissioner Robinson is working to do those things,” said the statement, emailed by Burgess.

Other state officials have also expressed support for Robinson, and Senate Education Chairman Steve Wise, who has spoken to some board members, said he also believes the commissioner is okay.

"I think that he's bright and he's knowledgeable and he's got connections, and he ought to be okay," Wise, R-Jacksonville, told the News Service.

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  • by Leslie tetrault Location: United States on May 27, 2012 at 08:04 AM
    I am not surprised that while doing a search for FCAT, that I would also find this devil involved as well as the Bush family. I am a teacher and I resent deeply anybody's plan to use our children to make a profit. I will let all know that is what is happening now. OCCUPY
  • by FCAT burned out Mom Location: Tallahassee on May 24, 2012 at 06:42 AM
    I am so tired of hearing about FCAT. When my oldest was in 3rd grade two years ago, that is all we heard from the first day of school until he finally took the test. Just about every lesson was to prepare him for a test. We were told from the beginning that it did not matter what grades he received in reading, if he did not score high enough he would either fail the 3rd grade or would have to go to a summer reading program. Well he passed and we were done with FCAT for another year. Now my youngest is in 1st grade and even though FCAT starts at 3rd grade even she is not immune to tests. This year she had to take the "IOWA Test of Basic Skills", and yes the name says a lot, this test are standardized test given to our Kindergarten through 2nd grade students that is used in Iowa as part of their state's testing program. I guess since Florida has to spend so much time and energy on FCAT that they had to go to another state to test the ones too young for FCAT. It is past time for FCAT to be gone and stop harassing our children and teachers.
  • by Lifetimelearner Location: Seminole on May 23, 2012 at 08:06 PM
    This mess was waiting to happen. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation have taken the back burner for years and all of a sudden our kids are supposed to be an expert at them. Also, they had to creatively write a near perfect draft in 45 minutes to be told if they are good at writing. Really? One test does not dictate that...but how do we explain that to our 4th graders? Lessons learned...parents be proactive and do not rely completely on the system to educate your kids. There are many free websites and resources around you to help them in all subject areas. FCAT has too many gaps and stresses on test taking not learning. Education begins at home and not at some government office.
  • by Anonymous on May 23, 2012 at 07:55 PM
    FCAT is dumbing down our kids. Do like Alabama and get rid of it. Please.
  • by Legacy Location: Adjacent on May 23, 2012 at 07:38 PM
    Maybe the Guv and his henchmen were too busy focusing on purchasing lands for the Guv's monument? After all, what is more important, public education? Or preserving a lasting monument to one's "legacy"? Heh. The fun factor in this town is about to ramp up.
  • by John P Location: Florida on May 23, 2012 at 07:28 PM
    If Wise thinks the commissioner is OK, then we know he is clearly not "OK".
  • by William Location: Tallahassee on May 23, 2012 at 07:25 PM
    I heard Robinson on the radio this morning. Sounded like someone with a bunch of sound bites in front of him. Just a talking head repeating the "message".
  • by Behind the fence Location: Perry on May 23, 2012 at 06:05 PM
    Well Bald Bully failed at making jobs, failed prison reform, failed on drug testing, failed on voter confidence, failed on the 3% contribution, failed at keeping his department leaders, failed at state redistricting..and now he doesn't want people to know he has failed in Education as well. Not his fault? The buck stops with the Gov. He did prove one FCAT question right however, (700,000 jobs created) / (700,000 jobs lost) = 1 IDIOT!
  • by Jim Location: Tallahassee on May 23, 2012 at 04:01 PM
    Anyone involved in education can tell you that the governor's office has always been "intimately involved" in FCAT scores. The scores have been manipulated from the beginning. The test data is invalid and means absolutely nothing in terms of a child's abilities or a teacher's abilility.
    • reply
      by Dub on May 24, 2012 at 08:28 AM in reply to Jim
      So, my Dear Gov, how will you spin this? You can't adjust the tests to be more difficult and then change the scores just because you don't like them. You are stuck with this mess Gov. Your Ed Plan for our children is a disaster.
  • by Anonymous on May 23, 2012 at 04:00 PM
    Leave it to the Liar-in-Chief! maybe he can explain why the FCAT sucks.
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