Make us your home page

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 or (813) 909-4614.


More school news

For more education news, visit the Gradebook at

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

  1. Father and brother of alleged bomber detained in Libya


    The father and younger brother of the man who British police say bombed an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester have been detained in Libya, where anti-terror authorities said the brother confessed to knowing "all the details" of the attack plot.

    Hashim Ramadan Abedi appears inside the Tripoli-based Special Deterrent anti-terrorism force unit after his arrest on Tuesday for alleged links to the Islamic State extremist group. Abedi is the brother of Salman Abedi, who has been identified as the man behind the bombing that killed 22 people and wounded scores at an Ariana Grande concert Monday night in Manchester. [Ahmed Bin Salman, Special Deterrent Force via AP]
  2. Marijuana extract Epidiolex helps some kids with epilepsy, study shows


    A medicine made from marijuana, without the stuff that gives a high, cut seizures in kids with a severe form of epilepsy in a study that strengthens the case for more research into pot's possible health benefits.

    An employee checks a plant at LeafLine Labs, a medical marijuana production facility in Cottage Grove, Minn. [Associated Press (2015)]
  3. CBO analysis: 23 million would lose health coverage under House-passed bill


    WASHINGTON — The Republican health care bill that passed the House earlier this month would nearly double the number of Americans without health insurance over the next decade, according to a new analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

    President Donald Trump held a press conference in the Rose Garden at the White House with members of the GOP on May 4 after the House passed legislation to roll back the Affordable Care Act. [Cheriss May | Sipa USA via TNS]
  4. Tarpon Springs psychic charged with defrauding veteran, widow out of $155,000


    TARPON SPRINGS — A psychic was arrested Tuesday after police said she scammed two clients out of more than $150,000.

    Gina Wilson
  5. St. Pete Economic Development Corporation lures marketing firm MXTR to town

    Economic Development

    St. Petersburg Economic Development Corporation has lured its first big catch to St. Petersburg — MXTR Automation. The digital marketing company announced Wednesday that it will fill 20 "high-wage" creative positions within the next 18 months, as well as open an office in downtown St. Petersburg this year.