FOR WHOM THE FCAT BELL TOLLS Escambia County School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas has a problem. The Florida Department of Education released last week his district’s FCAT writing scores for fourth, eighth and tenth-graders as well as reading scores for ninth and tenth-grade students. They weren’t good. In fact, they were so bad on the writing exam statewide that the Florida Board of Education dropped the passing standard from a Level 4 to Level 3.
Thomas’ district scored below the state percentages at all grade levels. Only 22 percent of his third-graders scored 4 or higher on the writing exam, compared to 27 percent statewide. Of eighth-graders, 23 percent scored 4 and higher, while the statewide percentage was 33. Thirty-six percent of tenth-grade students scored 4 or higher, compared to 38 percent.
The ninth and tenth grade reading scores were just as dismal. Only half of his ninth-graders scored a 3 or higher, two percentage points below the state percentage and 18 points below Santa Rosa County. Forty-nine percent of the tenth-graders passed the reading exam, while 50 percent scored a 3 or higher statewide and 64 percent of the Santa Rosa County tenth-graders scored that well.
For a man whose academic career has centered on tutoring and the administration and interpretation of FCAT results, these scores were severe blows. When interviewed by the daily newspaper, Thomas said that he was having difficulty interpreting them and that FDOE had acknowledged there was a serious problem with the test.
Across the district, principals, teachers, parents and students are wondering what these low scores mean for them. Principals and teachers are set to have their compensation tied to these FCAT scores. The students are labeled successes or failures based on them. How will Thomas use these scores?
Since it’s an election year for him, my guess is Thomas will want to use them as a new baseline for future assessments and not penalize principals, teachers and students. However, there is a thornier problem looming. What will he do about A.A. Dixon Charter School for Excellence? The school is handling children who are several grade levels behind in reading and math.
Thomas and his school board told that inner-city charter school that they must pull their school grade up to at least a “D” to have its charter renewed. Will Thomas use the results from a test that he admits has serious problems to close A.A. Dixon?
I hope Thomas grants the charter school the same leniency that he will be asking from the voters this fall. His decision will define his legacy.