Hillsborough school superintendent calls for FCAT reforms

Backed by other Florida superintendents, Hillsborough County schools chief MaryEllen Elia has outlined a list of steps she said state education officials need to take to restore confidence in the FCAT.

"I believe that it's important for accountability in Florida for us to have a test that we can all feel is reliable," Elia said Wednesday. Superintendents have questioned this year's FCAT results, which led to plunging school grades at hundreds of elementary schools statewide.

In a column on the opinion page in today's St. Petersburg Times, Elia insists that the Department of Education respond to questions school leaders have about learning gains and test design.

Last week, after two audits, the state said that this year's FCAT results were accurate.

"I would suggest that the scope of the work that was done by the auditors wasn't large enough to explain the anomalies," Elia said.

In another column also published today, Florida Education Commissioner Eric J. Smith countered that Florida's system for grading schools is sound and explained the auditing process.

"The gist of their findings was that the FCAT is a sound assessment system and the results it produced were both accurate and reliable," he wrote. "They did note that some variations in the results were seen from year to year, but none of those variations were anomalous or beyond acceptable and historical ranges, which was a primary concern of our school districts."

Smith, who was traveling late Wednesday, could not be reached for comment.

School grades are based in part on FCAT scores, and this year more than 300 elementary schools dropped grades based on testing results.

Elia also wants the state to bring back norm-referenced tests, which were cut two years ago for budget reasons.

Educators used the test to compare Florida students to others across the nation. They can serve as a sort of litmus test to verify and confirm results of the FCAT, said Elia and Pinellas superintendent Julie Janssen.

Elia said her recommendations are a reflection of discussions she's had with several other superintendents and the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. Janssen said on Wednesday that Elia's recommendations are on target.

"Superintendents throughout Florida still have questions and concerns that they feel haven't been addressed," said Bill Montford, chief executive officer of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, which is supporting Elia.

Elia also said the state should establish a technical oversight committee, and have a representative of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents attend state Board of Education meetings.

Hillsborough school superintendent calls for FCAT reforms 08/11/10 [Last modified: Thursday, August 12, 2010 1:07am]

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