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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Latest FCAT results

DIPS HAPPEN - THE PRESS CONFERENCE (2:15 P.M. UPDATE): There isn't a good explanation, yet, for the drop-off in this year's FCAT reading scores, Education Commissioner Jeanine Blomberg said at this afternoon's press conference. But keep in mind that data fluctuations are normal: "We've seen it in the past and we'll see it in the future," she said. She also insisted the latest FCAT scores still show "long-term improvement."

Blomberg began the press conference by noting the modest increase in math scores - as good a sign as any that the dip in reading scores is not good news. She said the department has already looked at several potential factors, including a possible change in student mobility rates, but nothing panned out. At this point, she said, "We have not been able to analyze the data in the depth that we would like to."

One possibility: Maybe last year's cohort of third graders was simply a little smarter. Cornelia Orr, the department's testing chief, said last year's group did significantly better than their 2005 counterparts on some of the FCAT reading questions that showed up on both years' tests. "It was very compelling evidence," Orr said, that the class of 2006 "did achieve higher."

NOON UPDATE: To read the DOE's press release on the results, click here. A highlight: They don't look at the year-to-year changes, instead focusing on "long-term improvement" since 2001. To find all the tables that reporters get to look at, click here. Press conference starts at 12:30 p.m. Stay tuned.

11 A.M. UPDATE: Lest we forget: This morning's results mean thousands of third graders - and thousands more than last year - are likely to find themselves in third grade again next year.

State policy that went into effect in 2003 mandates that third graders who score at the lowest of five levels on the reading portion of the FCAT be retained, unless they can demonstrate reading proficiency through other assessments, such as a portfolio or the norm-referenced test mentioned just below. Last year, 14 percent of third graders scored at Level 1. This year, 19 percent have.

Assuming The Gradebook can do basic math correctly, 38,400 third graders are now at risk of retention, up from 28,600 last year.

10:10 A.M. UPDATE:  If there's a silver lining in this year's unflattering results, it's this: Florida third graders still made gains relative to their peers nationwide.

A portion of the FCAT includes questions from another standardized test, which allows a national gauge on progress. This year, Florida third-graders scored at the 62nd percentile in reading on that test, up from the 61st percentile last year and the 50th percentile two years ago. In simpler terms, that means Florida third graders, on average, score 12 points higher than the national average.

In math, they scored at the 69th percentile, up two points from last year. 

9:50 A.M. UPDATE: The news was mixed for seniors retaking the FCAT for the last time before their upcoming graduation. They need to pass the exam if they want a standard diploma, and they didn't do all that well.

The percentage of seniors passing the reading section rose slightly statewide, but only to 15 percent, up from 14 percent last year. And this year, more twelfth-graders (25,815) took the exam than last year (23,129). The results in the math section were better by comparison, in that just 10,633 students had to retake the test, and of those 26 percent passed. Last year, 10,782 seniors retook the math exam, but 29 percent passed.

Senior retake results in our Tampa-area school districts looked much like the state's numbers - up slightly in the percentage passing reading, down a bit (or in Hillsborough's case, flat) in the percentage passing math. Hernando bucked the trend with a passing rate on math up 5 percentage points, to 36 percent.

9:30 A.M. UPDATE: For the first time ever, FCAT reading scores for Florida’s third-graders have dropped - and dropped a lot.

Statewide, the percentage reading at grade level fell from 75 last year to 69 percent this year, according to results released by the Department of Education this morning. All five districts in the Tampa Bay area posted declines, with Citrus down 3 percentage points, Pinellas down 5, Hillsborough down 6 and both Pasco and Hernando down 7.

This year's fall may be all the more surprising given last year's results, which showed Florida third graders making the biggest gains ever.

It also stands in contrast to this year's math results, which show 74 percent of third graders doing math at grade level - up 2 percentage points from last year. Math results were mixed in the Tampa Bay area, with Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco all posting gains and Citrus and Hernando posting declines.

FIRST POSTING (includes all the links):

Well, the state just released the county passing rates for third graders and seniors who took (or retook) the FCAT. If you want to see how kids in your county did, here are the links for senior retake results (a searchable spreadsheet), third-grade norm-referenced test results (a pdf file) and third-grade Sunshine State standards results (also a pdf file). Naturally, we reporters are just now taking a look, so we will bring you some assessment soon. But for now, just some tables for your personal browsing pleasure. And, of course, we will bring you news from commissioner Jeanine Blomberg and her crew after her 12:30 news conference.

- Ron Matus and Jeff Solochek

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 9:16am]


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