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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

More kids set to fail the FCAT

by Leslie Postal, Orlando Sentinel

The State Board of Education voted Monday to adopt a tougher FCAT scoring system for the state's standardized math and reading exams.

The move is designed to push students and schools to achieve more academically. But likely, at least initially, it will mean more students fail those sections of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

The FCAT, a series of exams in math, reading, science and writing, is taken annually by students in grades 3 to 10 and is used to help make promotion and graduation decisions and to judge school and teacher quality.

The board on Monday adopted new "cut scores" — marks that separate failing and passing scores and determine which scores are below, above or on grade level — for FCAT math and reading.

This is the first time in a decade the state has adopted new cut scores. The change was needed this year because FCAT's math and reading exams were revised to meet new academic standards.

The move is also a short-term because the state plans to retire FCAT math and reading exams by 2015 and replace them with new tests designed to meet new "common core" standards in those subjects. The new tests are being developed by a consortium of more than 20 states.

The goal of all these testing changes, said board member Akshay Desai, is to "to continue to raise the bar for all students…to get them ready to complete globally."

State educators wanted harder standards in part because they worried too many Florida students left high school ill-prepared for college classes. The board unanimously adopted the proposal made by Commissioner Gerard Robinson.

School administrators worry the changes, particularly for the high school reading exam, will make it tougher for some teenagers to earn diplomas. The passing rate on the 10th-grade FCAT reading test could fall from 60 to 52 percent, officials estimate.

But board member John Padget noted that many students who fail the test as high school sophomores do pass it eventually and still graduate with their class. Students must pass that 10th-grade exam to earn diplomas.

"Students do have the chance to recover," he said.

Last year, about 4,500 students — out of class of more than 150,000 — did not earn diplomas solely because they hadn't passed FCAT, state data show. Nearly 10,500 never passed FCAT but managed to do well enough on ACT or SAT so were able to substitute those scores for a passing FCAT mark.

The changes approved today kick in with this year's 10th graders and will take effect with the FCAT exams taken this coming spring.

Educators expect more students will do poorly at all grade levels, meaning many more will require remedial math and reading classes or lessons. More third graders likely will face retention, as is required with low FCAT reading scores. or 407-420-5273,0,4119688.story

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