The state of Florida experienced a dramatic drop in FCAT writing scores this year due to interpretation of scores differing from previous years.
An emergency conference was held by the State Board of Education Tuesday, May 15, to discuss the results of the FCAT student writing proficiency test, which became available on May 10 to the Department of Education.
A motion was put forth during the meeting to set the cut score at 3.0 for the FCAT writing portion only for 2012, which is a decrease from the 4.0 cut score set. The board members said they want to essentially hold the schools and districts harmless for this year in regards to writing.
Another point that was made during the emergency meeting was that overnight, students did not all of a sudden become bad writers. So the issue of whether there was a scoring challenge or if the raising of the challenge and rigor affected the results will be looked into.
"The strength of Florida's economy and our children's futures depend on our ability to prepare all students for success after high school, in college, in the workplace and in life," Commissioner Gerard Robinson said in a prepared statement. "Florida's children do not know less than before. Rather, we've raised our standards and expectations. Today, we are asking more of our children and more of our teachers than we ever have. It's clear in that we must do a better job of communicating student expectations to educators and parents, so they can better prepare students to be successful."
The board also said the way the scores were interpreted was different than past years.
This year there was a greater focus and emphasis on writing conventions, which includes punctuation, capitalization, spelling, usage and sentence structure.
The scoring method that was used consisted of a rubric of one to six. The rubric graded the students on focus, organization, support and conventions in the essay.
A press conference was also held in the Communications Department of the Lee County School District's office Tuesday afternoon, May 15, to discuss the scores.
Superintendent Dr. Joseph Burke said the motion of changing the cut scores from a 4.0 to 3.0 will have a significant impact on the overall scores. He said it is a very important effort by the State Board of Education.
With the change in cut scores, Burke said the number of students to receive a 3.0 will approximately be in the 80 percent range. He said for 10th graders that rate would be 84 percent.
District results for the FCAT writing portion of the test were released Friday morning. For 4th grader, 85 percent of students scored a 3.0 or above, 49 percent achieved a 3.5 or above and 27 percent received a 4.0 or above.
Eight grade students in the district who received a 3.0 or above for the FCAT writing was 80 percent, 51 percent for 3.5 or above and 30 percent for 4.0 or above.
The 10th grade students in Lee County who scored a 3.0 or above was 85 percent, 58 percent for 3.5 or above and 35 percent for 4.0 or above.
A total of 45 4th grade students took the writing portion of the FCAT test at Pine Island Elementary School. Four students received a 5.0, seven received a 4.5, 29 received a 4.0, 22 received a 3.5, 27 received a 3.0, nine received a 2.5 and two received a 2.0. In other words, 89 percent of the students at Pine Island Elementary School received a 3.0 or above, 62 percent received a 3.5 or above and 40 percent received a 4.0 or above.
Burke said the state is attempting to look at the first administration of the test, which he said has happened in the past.
He said although he was in favor of high standards and thinks the state did the right thing in applying those standards, he did not anticipate a dramatic decline to occur in the scores.
"I'm hopeful this will give us impetus to move forward," he said about changing the cut scores.
Burke believes the state is putting forth an effort to be fair to teachers and students.
"I commend them for that," he said. "We have to do a better job with preparing the students."
Burke said the next time the test is administered the students will perform at a higher level.
"Reality that work needs to be done," Burke said in reference to the writing scores. "The issue is how are we preparing our students to write clearly."
The most important message Burke wanted to get across during the press conference was that the district is not blaming the students or teachers for the drop in writing scores because the change in cut scores happened mid-year. He said teachers had three or four months to work with the students before the instrumentation of the writing test was given at the end of March.
"We are not blaming students, not saying students are performing poorly or are failures," Burke said. "We are not disappointed in the individual performance of students."
The district was notified in July 2011 of the changes that would occur in regards to the scoring of FCAT writing for the 2012 school year. Those changes included the correct use of standard English conventions, as well as the quality of details that were needed as support for the FCAT writing test. Sample writing papers were posted online in August 2011, as well as scoring guides for the district to use.
Since the dramatic drop occurred state-wide, Burke said that he has to believe there was a missing element.
"There wasn't any specific communication problems," he said, other than the scoring rubric of the test.
Burke said it was unclear on how the rubric would be applied to the scores itself.
"It's not about teachers not teaching and students not learning," he said.
The blame is not going to be placed anywhere, Burke said, because it is about how they look at standards and expectations and what the district needs to do at the 4th, 8th and 10th grade levels.
Burke went on to say that it is extraordinary and really unusual for such a dramatic drop. He said the district needs to look at results, analyze the rubric applied and make hard decisions about how to ramp up.
"We have a lot of work to do to perform better," Burke said.