Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

State flags FCAT writing exam at Pasco's Schrader Elementary

BAYONET POINT — Schrader Elementary was one of the last places Pasco school district officials would have thought to look for efforts to teach students to game the FCAT writing exam.

"That school setting uses really good curriculum models," Rachel Powers, the district's supervisor of elementary reading and language arts, said of A-rated Schrader. "They have a good training program."

Yet when reviewing Schrader's fourth-grade FCAT essays this spring, test scorers saw a pattern among the responses that led them to suspect the school had given students a formula to follow. Victoria Ash, chief of the state's Bureau of K-12 Assessment, notified the Pasco school district last week of the discovery.

Forty-nine schools in 12 counties got similar letters from Ash.

"It's not technically cheating," Florida Department of Education spokesman Tom Butler said. "It's just not a preferred instructional practice. If it's not original work, it's not instruction they need to become better writers."

Teaching students a structure for organizing their essays is fine. The problem emerges when students use contrived phrases or examples that seem more geared to winning FCAT points than expressing the students' own thoughts.

At Schrader, at least three students' essays mentioned the idea of being rewarded for following the rules by receiving a trip to a theme park, state officials said. Their use of the same example raised a red flag.

Template writing never has been encouraged in Pasco schools, Powers said. In fact, she added, all schools received warnings last year to avoid the method after state officials announced their plan to crack down on what have become known as "poof!" essays, referring to a phrase that repeatedly popped up in several writing samples at certain Florida schools in 2008.

Still, Powers added, the temptation can be great, particularly for teachers who struggle with reluctant writers. Giving them a hook can help get them started, she said.

Plus, Powers added, "I think the state assessment in the past has rewarded template writing, because students can score well" with it.

For now, the state has no penalty attached to template writing. Ash wrote in her letter to the district that discussions are under way to determine "appropriate consequences" going forward.

Districts have gotten word, though, that student scores will not be penalized.

The state provided Pasco with a CD containing all the Schrader students' essays, along with the encouragement to review it and the recommendation to "address the issue as you feel necessary."

Schrader principal Mary Ellen Stelnicki and assistant principal Erika Tonello were at a conference and not available for comment.

Peggy Jones, Pasco's director of assessment, said she has begun analyzing the responses for patterns. The next step, she said, will be to evaluate the possible sources.

"This is not something where a teacher stood up in front of a room and said, 'Here's a prompt. Let me teach you how to write to it,' " Jones said.

The source of the issue matters, she said, because the ability to write and summarize crosses all subjects and is a key indicator of whether a student is learning. Students must be able to write original material based on questions asked, and not just regurgitate rote material, she added.

"We plan to figure out what happened so it doesn't happen again, anywhere," Jones said.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614.

>>tampabay.com

More school news

For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

State flags FCAT writing exam at Pasco's Schrader Elementary 07/21/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 21, 2009 8:29pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Dirk Koetter to Bucs: Take your complaints to someone who can help

    Bucs

    TAMPA — It was just another day of aching bellies at One Save Face.

    Dirk Koetter: “All of our issues are self-inflicted right now.”
  2. Seminole Heights murders: fear and warnings, but no answers

    Crime

    TAMPA — Interim Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan elicited loud gasps from the crowd of about 400 who showed up at Edison Elementary School on Monday night to learn more about the string of unsolved killings that have left the southeast Seminole Heights neighborhood gripped by fear.

    Kimberly Overman, left, comforts Angelique Dupree, center, as she spoke about the death of her nephew Benjamin Mitchell, 22, last week in Seminole Heights. The Tampa Police Department held a town hall meeting Monday night where concerned residents hoped to learn more about the investigation into the three shooting deaths over 11 days in southeast Seminole Heights. But police could give the crowd at Edison Elementary School few answers. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  3. Juvenile justice reform seen as help for teen car theft problem

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG — One of Tampa Bay's largest religious organizations has decided to make reforming the juvenile justice system one of its top priorities for next year.

    One of Tampa Bay's largest religious organizations, Faith & Action for Strength Together (FAST), voted Monday night to make reforming the juvenile justice system one of its top priorities for next year. FAST believes civil citations could help Pinellas County?€™s teen car theft epidemic by keeping children out of the juvenile justice system for minor offenses. [ZACHARY T. SAMPSON  |  Times]
  4. U.S. general lays out Niger attack details; questions remain (w/video)

    War

    WASHINGTON — The U.S. Special Forces unit ambushed by Islamic militants in Niger didn't call for help until an hour into their first contact with the enemy, the top U.S. general said Monday, as he tried to clear up some of the murky details of the assault that killed four American troops and has triggered a nasty …

    Gen. Joseph Dunford said much is still unclear about the ambush.
  5. Trump awards Medal of Honor to Vietnam-era Army medic (w/video)

    Military

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday turned a Medal of Honor ceremony for a Vietnam-era Army medic who risked his life to help wounded comrades into a mini homework tutorial for the boy and girl who came to watch their grandfather be enshrined "into the history of our nation."

    WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 23:  Retired U.S. Army Capt. Gary Rose (L) receives a standing ovation after being awarded the Medal of Honor by U.S. President Donald Trump during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House October 23, 2017 in Washington, DC. Rose, 69, is being recognized for risking his life while serving as a medic with the 5th Special Force Group and the Military Assistance Command Studies and Observations Group during ‘Operation Tailwind’ in September 1970. Ignoring his own injuries, Rose helped treat 50 soldiers over four days when his unit joined local fighters to attack North Vietnamese forces in Laos - officially off limits for combat at the time.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) 775062921