Superintendents: Miscommunication about FCAT changes to blame for low writing scores

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Miscommunication about changes to the FCAT is to blame for drastically lower writing scores this year, creating temporary panic for local students, parents and educators, Collier and Lee county superintendents said.

The miscommunication about how the test would be scored led to a dramatic drop in Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test writing scores for students in grades 4, 8 and 10.

"Somewhere there's a miss. Somewhere there's a disconnect," Collier Superintendent Kamela Patton said. "There's no way scores drop 50-60 points."

The State Board of Education announced in an emergency meeting Tuesday that it is lowering the passing FCAT writing score from a 4.0 to a 3.0 on a six-point scale, to keep the failure rate about the same as last year. That means the number of students passing would increase from 27 percent to more than 80 percent.

"When I saw a dramatic drop in scores I knew that students didn't all of a sudden overnight become bad writers," State Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said to more than 500 parents, teachers and community members listening in on the emergency board meeting.

Robinson acknowledged some things "slipped through" the Department of Education but promised they would be corrected.

The state has yet to release local district scores but expects to do so within the next few weeks.

Both Collier and Lee schools expect the drop in writing scores to lower school grades, which are largely based on FCAT math, reading, writing and science scores. However, FCAT writing scores do not affect whether a student passes to the next grade level.

Lee Schools Superintendent Joseph Burke applauded the state's decision to lower the passing score for this year. However, he said there was unclear communication about the scoring metrics and how they would affect scores.

"I'm in favor of high standards," he said. "But with a new set of standards ... sometimes an adjustment must be made."

The state increased rigor on the writing test in July 2011, raising the cutoff to pass from 3.5 to 4.0. The new standards required scorers to place more emphasis on writing conventions, such as grammar, and the quality of details provided as support when writing an essay

"It's not that teachers didn't teach, or that the students didn't learn," Burke said. "We're not disappointed in individual performance but we recognize collectively that we have to do a better job."

The state also changed the number of people scoring the student essays from one to two scorers.

Parents expressed concerns about the validity of the scorers, but both Collier and Lee superintendents said they have confidence in those scoring student essays.

Scorers must have a degree in a related field such as English, journalism or history, according to the Florida Department of Education.

Scorers go through a rigorous training process completing an initial test and two-days of practice testing to ensure reliability and validity. Once they are approved to score student essays, the quality of scoring is monitored daily.

The state has launched an external investigation to determine how the number of students achieving proficiency could have dropped so precipitously. In the meantime, both districts said they will focus on better preparing students.

"We're not placing blame," Burke said. "We're redoubling our efforts."

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Comments » 1

OldMarcoMan writes:

Like I said, next year the teachers will have the test, teach the test, pass the test, and demand a raise for how well they did on the test.
Whats the big deal? It's the way its always been, and the way it always will be.

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