Too tough? State ed board may lower passing grade after fewer students pass FCAT writing part

Lexey Swall/Staff
Third grade student Samantha Coveney, left, works to solve a math problem in preparation for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) at Bonita Springs Charter School on Friday. A report done by the Florida Department of Education shows that students in charter schools tend to score better on the FCAT than students in traditional public schools. Bonita Springs Charter School, an A+ school, is one of the best examples of the study.

Photo by LEXEY SWALL

Lexey Swall/Staff Third grade student Samantha Coveney, left, works to solve a math problem in preparation for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) at Bonita Springs Charter School on Friday. A report done by the Florida Department of Education shows that students in charter schools tend to score better on the FCAT than students in traditional public schools. Bonita Springs Charter School, an A+ school, is one of the best examples of the study.

— Preliminary results released Monday show a dramatic decline in FCAT writing scores statewide, prompting state education officials to schedule an emergency meeting today to consider reducing the passing grade.

Although individual district scores were not released, Collier Schools Superintendent Kamela Patton blamed this year’s plummeting scores on the state’s heavier emphasis on grammar and punctuation, a high number of Collier students learning the English language, and scoring methods that used an average by two test scorers.

“We need to continue to work and obviously the state needs to continue to work,” Patton said. “We have more English language-learners. We have more work to do. Everybody has to be part of the solution.”

Collier ranked eighth highest in the state for English language learners, just under Lee County schools, she said.

Preliminary results released by the state Department of Education show only 27 percent of 4th graders earned a passing score of 4 or better on a 6-point scale, compared with 81 percent last year. Only 33 percent of eighth graders passed, down from 82 percent, while 38 percent of 10th graders received a passing score, a drop from 80 percent.

Education officials made this year’s test more difficult, increasing standards for punctuation, capitalization, spelling and sentence structure, as well as the quality of details used to explain, clarify or define. The pool of test takers also was expanded to include lower performing students and tests were graded by two reviewers — not one, as the state did 2011.

“If two people score, it’s going to be drastically different,” Patton said.

To improve writing skills, Collier students were encouraged to write freely and express their thoughts, she said. But that teaching method is the opposite of the FCAT’s focus on capitalization, grammar and punctuation.

Colleen Reynolds, a spokeswoman for Bonita Springs Charter School, didn’t want to comment until individual school scores are released. However, state education officials last month disclosed that most charter school students consistently outperformed their public school peers in nearly every subject.

The State Board of Education now must determine what to do with the scores, which are used to grade individual schools. Failing schools are required to add remedial programs, which are costly in already tight budget times.

“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,” the department wrote, recommending an emergency meeting today to discuss a plan of action.

In the short term, the board suggested lowering the passing threshold from 4.0 to 3.5, which would dramatically increase passing scores. However, it still would be significantly less than 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. But that’s still at least 20 points lower than last year’s scores.

Florida Education Association spokesman Mark Pudlow 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”

FundEducationNow.org, an advocacy group, condemned the state education bureaucracy, saying the swing in grades shows the FCAT is a “multimillion dollar sham.”

A 2007 report by the National Endowment for the Arts, “To Read or Not to Read, A Question of National Consequence,” found that frequent readers scored better on writing tests than non readers or infrequent readers and that Americans ages 15 to 24 spent almost two hours daily watching TV, but only seven minutes of daily leisure time reading.

Employers ranked reading and writing skills as top deficiencies in new hires, the study found, noting large corporate employers spent roughly $31 million to provide remedial writing courses, while state employers spent $221 million. The Internet also is partly to blame for a drop in reading for pleasure, according to a U.S. Department of Education study, which found 22 percent of 17-year-olds and 30 percent of 13-year-olds read “almost every day for fun” — online or in print — a significant drop from 20 years earlier.

The Associated Press and The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 6

deltarome writes:

Bad move. Improve teaching skills. World doesn't need more illiterate Walmart trailer trash babies.

WhiskeyTangoFoxtrot writes:

This is a joke. The test is too tuff so we should lower the passing grade? How about we actually try to teach the kids to read instead of how to get a good grade on the state tests? That is the method that the schools use now because good test scores lead to more funding for the school. Another broken institution in America. Thank you big government.

How about you just make sure the kids know the alphabet by the time their seniors and give them 100% for that and a trophy. Then call it a day.

The government has done wonders for our education system. I can't wait until they get more involved in the healthcare system.

Pursuit writes:

Poor parenting + unqualified union protected teacher's == DUMB KID's It's an epidemic

happy6 writes:

the unions strike another blow for the good of mankind...more (naughty word)es being turned loose on society.

OldMarcoMan writes:

Im not worried, now that the Teachers have the New Test they can teach IT like they always do and next years scores will be up and the teachers can demand a raise for all their hard work.
No problem !

jwputnam writes:

I cannot believe that I am reading this correctly, but then I have to assume that the teacher's union finds this to be perfectly sound policy. After all, we have lowered (actually more like removed) the qualifications to remain a teacher. It only makes sense to bring the passing grade level down to their level.....correct?

The Marco Island Academy is the answer for those of you who wish to provide their children with a better education and the potential of going on to better colleges. Now that comment will stir the crazies on this site, but only because it is simply the truth. READ the story above AGAIN. So sad.

We do not need...no, better yet, we cannot afford the Dept. of Education or teacher's unions. Public service should NEVER been allowed to bargain collectively. NEVER. Why not prisoner's unions? How about the military? Even the socialist Roosevelt understood this and did not allow it.

Next month's recall election in Wisconsin will tell us all if there is any hope for freedom in America. I am sure that our founders are watching from above. If Walker loses, we might as well join the EU.

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