As schools distribute students' state testing results, some parents and teachers are noticing a curiosity they never expected.
In a system known for its 1 through 5 rating model, children are receiving zeroes for writing. Having never heard of the possibility of getting 0, they want to know how this could happen.
Enough people have inquired to prompt some districts to ask the Florida Department of Education for an explanation.
"We've had questions this year," said Pasco County testing director Peggy Jones. "We just verified the code with the DOE so we would be able to answer folks most accurately."
The code Jones mentioned is the state's "condition code." It's in the score report, attached to the sections where a student received no points.
Students can earn up to 10 points in writing, under three subcategories. They are: statement of purpose, focus, and organization (4 points possible), evidence and elaboration (4 points possible), and conventions of standard English (2 points possible).
They can receive zero points if their answers fall into one of several "conditions," as discussed in the state's Writing Scoring Sampler. Those are:
• The entire response is written in a language other than English.
• The response is illegible, incomprehensible, or includes an insufficient amount of writing to be evaluated.
• The majority of the response is copied from the source material and/or prompt language to the point that original writing is not recognizable or sufficient for scoring.
• The response is completely off topic, and the Conventions domain is scored; this condition could result in a score of 0, 1, or 2 points.
The information is also referred to in the test score explainer material, Understanding Florida Standards Assessments Reports 2018.
And it's not new.
The department outlined the conditions that could cause students to get a zero in writing, in a 2014 presentation about the state accountability model (see page 36).
"Scoring procedures for the ELA Writing assessment were not changed for the 2017-18 school year," department spokeswoman Audrey Walden told the Gradebook.
Jones agreed that, to many in the testing world, the state's rule was not a surprise. The state has in the past made clear it could dock student writing scores because things such as using too much of the material from the provided reading in the prompt.
But perhaps people noticed more in the past, when the writing test had a separate score from the reading test.
Students sat for the writing exam in early March, a month before they took the language arts state assessment. But the writing results are wrapped into the language arts score, and no longer considered as a distinct test.