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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

What they're saying about the FCAT after the writing scores tanked

With such a dramatic drop in FCAT writing scores, and the State Board of Education's decision to simply change the way the scores are counted, opinions about the validity of Florida's test and its accountability system are abundant.

See what some others are saying below. Who's right? And what should Florida do about it?

House Democratic Leader Ron Saunders, in a written statement: "Higher student performance is a great expectation, but it's an unrealistic expectation without adequate funding for our students and classroom teachers. Florida's current formula of artificial standards plus low funding equals failure. Parents and business leaders in Florida know that without proper funding, Florida schools will struggle. To achieve student academic success, Florida House Democrats continue to believe the right formula is better pay for well-deserving teachers and less emphasis on high-stakes standardized tests like the FCAT."

Commissioner Gerard Robinson: "(Tuesday's) vote by the State Board of Education to recalibrate the school grading scale of the FCAT Writing test was done in response to a tougher grading system that appropriately expects our students to understand proper punctuation, spelling and grammar. The Board acted after it became clear that students were posting significantly lower scores under newer, tougher writing standards. We are asking more from our students and teachers than we ever have.  I believe it is appropriate to expect that our students know how to spell and how to properly punctuate a sentence.  Before this year, those basics were not given enough attention, nor did we give enough attention to communicating these basic expectations to our teachers.  I support the Board’s decision to recalibrate the school grading scale while keeping the writing standards high.”

FEA president Andy Ford: “The action taken today by the State Board of Education (SBOE) only covers up the problem. The education leadership in this state – governors, legislative leaders, the Department of Education and the SBOE -- have consistently ignored teachers, education professionals, administrators and research experts and followed this reckless testing course. It hasn’t helped students, it hasn’t helped teachers, parents are frustrated and the tests cost millions in taxpayer dollars. The dramatic drop in writing scores shows that the system is a failure. Children have not suddenly grown less knowledgeable. The problem is in the state-mandated measurement. It’s long past time that Florida’s political leadership and its education hierarchy listen to independent researchers, school leadership at the local level and the expertise of teachers and other education professionals in our classrooms and our schools to come up with a way to more fairly and accurately measure the progress of our students and our public school system."

Orlando Sentinel columnist Beth Kassab: "With the higher standards, students' scores fell off a cliff. That doesn't mean everyone is a failure. It means we have some work to do to get to where we want to be. One problem with the FCAT is not the test itself but how teachers, parents and students use it to label themselves. It's not meant to be an evaluation of IQ, raw talent or self worth. It's intended to benchmark an education system that we're constantly trying to improve. The state board's fix this year may keep folks happy. But what will we do next year?"

Panama City News-Herald editorial board: "There’s nothing wrong with using tests as one evaluation tool so long as they are good tests. If a reliable, challenging exam produces uncomfortable results, such as a higher failure rate, the temptation is to blame the test instead of questioning whether educational inputs (quality of teaching, curriculum, etc.) need to be improved. Florida is not Lake Wobegon, where every child is above average. An 80 percent success rate on FCAT writing likely was inflated, especially when considering that students were not being graded on such fundamentals as spelling, grammar and logic. Education officials should not retreat from expecting more from students. However, the state can’t rely on test results if it can’t explain them. Back to the drawing board."

Herald-Tribune columnist Tom Lyons: "Kids understand that scoring three on a six-point scale rates them sub-par. It's simple math. They will also have trouble grasping that graders were told to use a really strict new rubric this year — a complicated checklist of sorts — that says clear and mostly grammatically correct writing is not good enough, even for 9-year-olds. The graders were trained to knock off far more points for a failure to use metaphors, or for a lack of spicy, sparkling words, or for misspelling such words, or even for including some information that isn't right to the point. Such tough grading is fine when choosing the best of the best in a writing contest. But if the aim is seeing if fourth-graders can write at a fourth-grade level, it seems to me the Department of Education lost its mind."

Miami Herald columnist Fred Grimm: "Someone, in this test-obsessed state, has clearly failed. I don’t think it was the kids."

[Last modified: Thursday, May 17, 2012 6:35am]


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