FCAT scoring change sets poor precedent
Published: Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 15:05
It’s official: Florida is becoming just a bit more brainless. And no, this is not just referring to the students — this is referring to the Florida Department of Education.
The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test is no doubt the most dreaded acronym for public school students in Florida. The results for the FCAT writing section, administered every year to fourth, eighth and 10th graders, were released last Monday, and the results left many flabbergasted.
In comparison to last year’s 81 percent passing rate, as Seminole Superintendent Bill Vogel so eloquently put it, “The results are a disaster.” Graded on a six-point basis, only 27 percent of students in the fourth grade received the 4 needed to pass. With a similar decline in passing rates present in eighth and 10th graders, these statistics from the initial results are causing a public outcry from concerned parents, school board members and teachers.
In a fantastically formal statement to the Orlando Sentinel, Volusia Superintendent Margaret Smith asked the question we all are losing sleep over: “How can all of a sudden our students get that dumb over the summer and score at this level?”
For those who firmly believe the United States offers the greatest education in the world, the natural solution was obvious: readjust what the state’s idea of a passing score is. After the Florida DOE viewed the drastic drop in passing scores, they suggested to the State Board of Education that the passing score be adjusted from a 4 to a 3.5. These “adjustments” have been made in preceding years as a way to keep low FCAT scores from affecting school grades.
Kathleen Oropeza, mother and co-founder of Fund Education Now, expressed her fury to the Orlando Sentinel, saying, "This doesn’t make me think they’re doing right by our kids.”
Excluding the possibility that there was some sort of colossal error on the scoring, the State Board of Education simply cannot condone this score “adjustment.” I am going to make the bold accusation that many can’t help but wonder: Isn’t it possible that those students who didn’t pass just weren’t as smart as their parents and teachers thought?
The last time there was an equivalent uproar from the public education system was in January, when Florida released the grades for the more than 3,000 public schools in the state. Graded on an A-to-F scale, many schools received lower grades. However, the public school grades were not readjusted despite similar objections from parents and school board members.
So, why should the Board of Education make an exception for the FCAT this year? The Florida DOE, as well as many parents, will try to argue that the readjustment is necessary since this year the state decided the scoring should be more strict. Additionally, when public school grades were released, many schools that received lower grades protested that the system did not take into consideration factors such as financial limitations and social status. Now, this argument is also being used to justify changing the scoring for the FCAT writing section.
The new scoring has a rigorous rubric that includes the usage of proper spelling and grammar, as well as presenting a coherent argument with supporting details. Now, here’s some food for thought for Oropeza: Aren’t these all things that students should be doing anyways? Proper spelling, grammar and presenting a sound argument are not excruciatingly difficult concepts to grasp. It is not the educator’s or the state’s faults that students still cannot pass a standardized written exam after years of the same exams, hours of tutoring and dozens of practice tests.
Furthermore, socioeconomic status in no way accounts for these scores, because we live in a country where free public school education from kindergarten through 12th grade is available. With resources such as public libraries, free Internet access to programs like FCAT Explorer and free after-school FCAT prep courses available, there is no excuse for not passing the FCAT writing section.
The only rational solution to these declining scores is simple: change the way students view the FCAT. Students need to realize that a failing grade is not the end of the world as they know it. After all, each student is allowed to retake the FCAT section in which they failed before they graduate. The best teachers aren’t those who just teach from pamphlets covering FCAT skills.
Those who failed should be required to take at least one month of writing-intensive classes, where they must log practice hours and also take two practice exams per week. Additionally, they should be given writing assignments that aren’t FCAT-related. Instead, this additional coursework should include outlining/mapping their essays and holding in-class debates, as well as other assignments that help students improve their logic and reasoning.
Readjusting the scoring scale for standardized tests in order to keep a school from receiving a bad grade not only undermines the hard work of those students who passed, but it also depreciates our entire education system.