Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Fewer third-graders pass critical FCAT reading test

Thursday was a rough day at San Jose Elementary School in Dunedin.

So rough, that principal Monika Wolcott emailed her staff asking them to hug third-grade teachers.

"They're sad today," she said. "It really attacks your self worth."

Like San Jose Elementary, schools throughout Florida were grappling Thursday with changes to the state's high-stakes reading exam. Third-graders faced a tougher test and a higher bar this year, resulting in far fewer numbers earning grade-level scores.

More students statewide also could be held back because they failed the reading FCAT, earning a Level 1 out of 5. Students must earn a Level 3 to be considered proficient; Level 2 scores mean students need extra attention but don't affect grade promotion.

That means statewide about 36,000 third-graders may be held back, 4,000 more than last year. The numbers in Tampa Bay range from about 2,694 in Hillsborough to 229 in Hernando.

Across the state, fewer students were considered proficient in math this year, too. Those results aren't used in grade promotion.

State education officials have been battling a groundswell of frustration about rapid changes to the state's accountability system this year. With the release Thursday of third-grade reading and math results, they cautioned against comparing 2011 scores with 2012, which would result in double-digit declines statewide.

Instead, they put out adjusted scores, showing how last year's students would have fared against this year's tougher standards. By that measure, only 57 percent of third-graders statewide would have scored on grade level in reading — about the same as this year's 56 percent.

In 2011, with the easier test, 72 percent of third-graders were proficient.

Some people questioned whether the state put out the adjusted scores to game the system.

"What does it matter what I would have gotten last year if the standards had been different?" said Colleen Wood of Save Duval Schools. "My question is, what are you trying to prove? If I change the standards fast enough and often enough, I can make anyone look like a failure."

But Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson defended the approach, saying it was the only way to make a fair year-to-year comparison.

"It's no way a manipulation of the figures. It's an adjustment of how we grade FCAT," he said.

At Dunedin's San Jose Elementary, for instance, 48 percent of third-graders scored on grade level this year. That was a drop of 28 percentage points — even compared to the state's adjusted scores. In 2011, when third-graders took an easier test, 89 percent earned proficient scores.

Such dramatic changes have been confusing — and frustrating — for many parents, teachers and even school officials.

Bill Lawrence, associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction for Pinellas County schools, said the biggest challenge of the day was helping schools make sense of the data, given all of the changes imposed by the state.

"It is very, very confusing to people," he said.

Lou Cerreta, principal of Cotee River Elementary School in Pasco County, said he tried not to get bogged down in the state's efforts to harmonize the scores.

"It is difficult to compare, because it's different criteria. You could look at the numbers every which way," he said.

Math results mirrored the trends in reading.

Just 58 percent of third-graders earned grade-level scores in math this year — a slight improvement over last year's 56 percent, based on the adjusted scores. Last year, 78 percent of students earned proficient scores.

To help parents understand the differences this year, the state is sending letters of explanation home with children's test scores. Parents also will be told how their child would have scored on last year's exams had this year's standards been applied.

Cynthia Shellabarger, a Hillsborough parent, chastised Robinson and his department at a public forum in Tampa on Wednesday night. "Why are we doing all this so quick and so soon when it's all going to change again?" she wondered.

Parents should learn soon how their high school students fared on the state's new end-of-course exams, which are slowly replacing the high school FCAT test. Results released Thursday were for schools, districts and the state.

The exams count for 30 percent of a student's grade this year. In future years, students will have to pass the exams to pass their classes.

This is the first year for the state's geometry and biology end-of-course exams so there isn't comparable year-to-year data. Instead, the state used a 20 to 80 scale score, with a statewide mean of 49 on both exams.

In the Tampa Bay area, school districts were mostly on par with the statewide mean. Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties had a mean of 50 on both exams, while Hernando had a mean of 47 on geometry and a 49 on biology.

Staff writer Marlene Sokol contributed to this report. Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at,(727)-893-8846 or on Twitter @Fitz_ly.

County-by-county reading results

This year, third-graders had to contend with a harder reading FCAT exam and a higher bar to be considered proficient. Students had to earn a Level 3 or above to be considered on grade level. In releasing the scores, state education officials pointed to adjusted scores to show how last year's students would have done under this year's standard:


Source: State Department of Education


FCAT reading and math results

Students were scored on a scale of 1-5 with 1 considered failing and 3 or above considered proficient or at grade level. Students who fail the reading portion may be held back.



* Percent of those who failed math not available.

Source: State Department of Education

Fewer third-graders pass critical FCAT reading test 05/24/12 [Last modified: Monday, May 28, 2012 3:24pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. What ever happened to the Zika epidemic?


    Remember Zika?

    The last time Gov. Rick Scott warned Floridians about the potential threat of the mosquito-borne virus was in July, when he urged residents to still be vigilant against bug bites and standing water. At the time, doctors and researchers were bracing for what was supposed to be another active summer …

    Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, responsible for transmitting Zika, sit in a petri dish at the Fiocruz Institute in Recife, Brazil. Cases of the virus are down dramatically this year in Florida, the result of awareness efforts, experts say. But the public, they add, should not let its guard down. [Associated Press]
  2. Pinellas licensing board needs cash. Will the county give it any?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– The grand jury that said Pinellas County should not take over the troubled construction licensing board also said the county should bail out the agency before it goes broke in 2018.

    Pinellas County Commission chair Janet Long isn't keen on the idea of the county loaning money to keep the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board afloat. The county has no say over the independent agency, which could run out of funding in 2018. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  3. Is the Bundt cake back? How retro baked goods are becoming trendy again


    Once there were grunts and slumps, buckles and brown betties. Oh, and pandowdies and sonkers. In the olden days, people routinely made angel food cakes, tomato soup cakes and hummingbird cakes. These were not Duncan Hines mixes, but rather confections made from scratch following yellowed and stained recipes in your …

    Nothing Bundt Cakes in Tampa offers a variety of options, from tiny “bundtinis” and 10-inch cakes that serve 18 to 20 people. Core flavors include lemon, marble, red velvet and chocolate-chocolate chip, with featured flavors like confetti.
  4. Craig Butz, executive director of Pepin Academies and former professional hockey player, died in a crash with a boat Saturday. His daughter Teagan, 4, remained in critical condition Sunday afternoon. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   TIMES, 2013]
  5. Two boys in critical condition after Largo crash


    LARGO — A 7-year-old boy was thrown from a car in a head-on crash on Starkey Road, and both he and a 6-year-old boy were in critical condition Sunday night, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.