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What's missing here?

If you're grading Florida on its handling of the FCAT, mark this one incorrect.

For reasons unknown, the state provided schools with defective rulers on a math test administered this week. Tens of thousands were missing the numeral 3.

The six-inch rulers skipped from 2 to 4, with a conspicuous white space in between.

Oops.

State officials caught the measurement mishap before the test and e-mailed a warning to local school districts. But the mistake provided ammunition to critics of the high-pressure exam, which goes a long way toward determining a child's academic future.

It also provided educators with a few laughs.

"I thought maybe it was related to the budget," quipped Anthony Reidy, the principal at Sandy Lane Elementary School in Clearwater. "This year we couldn't afford the threes. Next year, all the even numbers go."

"We had teachers write in the 3," said Nanci Wilson, the principal at Oakhurst Elementary School in Largo. "Are you kidding me? We don't throw anything away."

Given the tight security that surrounds the test, principals at some schools were afraid to throw the rulers away.

"We're holding on to them until we get further instruction," said Brenda Griffin, principal at Maniscalco Elementary in Lutz. "We're teachers. We follow directions."

The defective rulers were created and distributed by NCS Pearson, the company hired by the state to administer and score the FCAT.

The company is in the middle of a three-year, $105-million contract.

Each school was issued several perforated sheets with 10 cardboard rulers printed on them. One ruler at the bottom of each sheet was missing the number 3. All the others were fine.

Though the rulers have the words Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test printed on them, they were used only on the test given this week that enables the state to make national comparisons.

"If they can't get a ruler right, what other stuff are they getting wrong?" asked Jade Moore, director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association.

The rulers are one of the few tools provided to students when they take the FCAT.

The state also issues an inexpensive calculator, but those have had problems, too.

The Casio HS-10 calculators can give wrong answers if students punch in numbers quickly and continuously.

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