FCAT writing scores plummet

caines | 5/17/2012, 5:30 a.m.

Only 27 percent of 4th graders pass

Floridas commissioner of education, Gerald Robinson, led the recent push to raise minimum passing scores on the state-administered FCAT saying it was necessary so that we have students who are ready to take the reins of government and industry in the State. And while he predicted that the newer standards would result in an increase in the number of Fs for school grades, the FCAT writing scores released last weekend have put state educators and parents in a clear state of panic. Robinson called for emergency talks after discovering that nearly two-thirds of Florida students failed the new and improved writing portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test [FCAT]. Callers from across the state, including parents, teachers and administrators flooded phone lines early Tuesday morning anxious to receive greater clarity on the statewide numbers released by the Department of Education. Many callers were concerned because they still are not sure how individual districts have done. On Monday, Robinson suggested that the rules be changed again reducing the FCAT writing passing score from 4.0 to 3.5 a reduction he says would increase the number of students receiving passing scores. Even with this change, however, the number of passing scores would still be significantly less than the 2011 scores, he said. The data is statewide performance only but we are seeing a significant drop across the board. Even if the passing score was reduced to 3.0 there would be a big impact although not as severe if the score was 3.5 or 4.0. It should be noted that the writing portion of the FCAT has long been considered the easier of the tests. With that in mind, callers said they were even more concerned about the results on other sections that have not yet been announced. What changes were made to the test? Statewide, only 27 percent of fourth-graders earned a four or better the required score for passing based on a six-point scale. That is an 81 percent drop in the number of students who passed last year. Eighth-graders dropped 82 percent with only a 33 percent passing rate. As for 10th-graders, they suffered an 80 percent drop with 38 percent passing the writing exam. The emergency meeting was called by Robinson, he says, in order to determine how to minimize the damage. We have to now figure out what needs to be done to improve our students resulting scores, he said. Last summer the state increased expectations for proper use of punctuation, spelling, capitalization and sentence structure. Administrators, including the State Association of District Superintendents are asking for an audit of the test itself before the State makes any final moves. I received a memo from several superintendents in Central Florida but I can assure you that an audit is already in place, Robinson added.

Parents angry, confused

Other callers, particularly parents, asked Robinson and his staff how they should explain the dismal numbers to their already anxious children. One parent said her child was told that the only courses that mattered were those whose subjects were covered on the FCAT. Robinson squashed such sentiments and said his office would investigate her complaint. In terms of test assessment, this year the State increased the number of scorers from one to two readers and put them through a more rigorous training module to prepare them. The State will also release assessment results, including anchor papers, to all districts so that they can better coordinate professional development efforts. Roberto Martinez, vice chairman, State Board of Education, says he supports raising the bar but is worried that more children may be set up for failure. Miami-Dade County School Board member Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall agrees. I foresee that a feeling of disappointment will start to hover over the minds of our children this will lead them to believe that they are not progressing, she said. This is a direct affront to the community leaders, parents and teachers who have worked tirelessly to educate their children in the midst of high-stakes testing. We need to take a closer look at what our teachers are doing instead of a yardstick created by the state. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com