Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday October 22nd 2014

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Outtakes 5/17/12

REALITY CHECK State education leaders had warned us that the new Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests were tougher.  School superintendents told us that test scores and school grades might dip. They were right.

In 2010, the Florida Legislature added a writing requirement to the FCAT. The first year of testing was 2011 and over 80 percent of the students in the fourth and eighth scored at Level 4 or higher.  Three-fourths of the tenth graders scored as well.

Teachers had figured out how to teach writing to fit the FCAT. The writing formula was simple. Even if a student had trouble with reading, they could score well in writing.

Escambia County has struggled with the FCAT since it was first mandated over 10 years ago. However, over 70 percent of its students scored at the Level 4 or higher.

Last summer, State Board of Education changed the scoring of FCAT Writing for 2012 to increase expectations regarding the correct use of standard English conventions and the quality of details provided as support. Both of these elements had in the past been scored with leniency.

On Monday, May 14, the preliminary results for the writing portion of the 2012 FCAT were released and they were abysmal. Only 27 percent of all Florida fourth graders scored a Level 4 or higher on the writing portion, compared to 81 percent in 2011. The other grade levels didn’t score much better– Eighth graders had 33 percent at Level 4 or higher; tenth graders 38 percent.

For a state that has placed its faith in the FCAT to measure the quality of its public education system and competency of its teachers, this steep drop in scores is earth shattering. The lawmakers have passed laws requiring teachers be compensated based on FCAT scores. What happens when the scores drop so deeply?

The low writing scores are a reality check. Our lawmakers and state leaders can’t continue to tinker with public education. New requirements and test standards can’t be placed on teachers weeks before the start of the school year without problems. Our children shouldn’t be used as guinea pigs to feed some politician’s ego.

New standards, new tests and new scoring systems need to be rolled out gradually. They need to be tested in the field and refined before they are used to measure the success of students, teachers, schools and school districts.

Our students and teachers aren’t failure. It’s the Florida Legislature and State Board of Education that have failed them.