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Monday, December 19, 2011

Florida joins the student failing business

By Leslie Postal, Orlando Sentinel

Florida is poised to ratchet up its standardized testing system, making it tougher for students to pass key math and reading exams.

It's a move designed to push students, and schools, to achieve more academically. But the immediate and dramatic impact likely will be that many more students fail FCAT.

More failing test scores will mean thousands more students face being held back, assigned to remedial classes and told their diplomas are in jeopardy.

It will be a "a shock to the system," said Barbara Foorman, director of the Florida Center for Reading Research at Florida State University.

Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie said he puts the change "in the range of modest to significant." Palm Beach County Chief Academic Officer Judith Klinek said initially more students will score below what is considered proficient.

But Ron Blocker, president of the Florida Association for District School Superintendents, said most of his colleagues support the proposal to toughen the scoring. Like state educators, they hope tougher standards mean more students get help early on.

The State Board of Education is to vote Monday on both a new scoring system for FCAT math and reading exams and a grading formula for the state's new algebra end-of-course exam.

The changes are needed because the state has debuted the new algebra test and revised the math and reading exams, dubbed FCAT 2.0, to meet new, more rigorous academic standards.

The proposed changes could mean:

The percentage of third graders facing retention for failing FCAT reading climbs from 16 to 18 percent.

The percentage of 10th-graders passing FCAT reading, which they must pass to graduate, falls from 60 to 52 percent.

The percentage of students failing the algebra exam hits 46 percent.

Those figures are the state's estimates based on students' performance on FCAT and the algebra test in 2011.

The state also expects that many more students, in elementary to high school, will score poorly and be required to take remedial lessons.

But Runcie said the new bar corrects the "false sense of progress" in the old model in which elementary students scored well on the FCAT only to fail in high school. With the new bar, younger students will likely score worse, he said, but they also will be targeted sooner for improvement.

"I think we'll have more success with some of the students," he said.

The Class of 2014 is the first that will be impacted by what the State Board decides Monday. The new system will kick in with the FCAT exams taken this coming spring.

Palm Beach County already has begun alerting the community about the changes, Klinek said.

"We are addressing it now by making parents and teachers and school administrators aware of it. We will address it when we get student scores by providing remediation so our students will, indeed, show proficiency in the immediate future," she said.

And despite the changes, school officials won't seek pity or accept defeat.

"We have been faced with other situations where the bar has been raised and our school district increases the rigor of teaching to match the new standard," Klinek said. "We want our students to be competitive with peers in this county, and with students across the state and nation."

Staff writers Cara Fitzpatrick and Marc Freeman contributed to this story. or 407-420-5273.,0,1710956.story

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