By Michael Eng | Managing Editor
Without knowing any backstory, if you take a look at the 2012 Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test grades released last week, you’d probably be relatively pleased with the results.
Nothing looks out of the ordinary; most of our Plant City schools either maintained the same grade or dropped slightly. But certainly nothing alarming or earth-shattering in those scores.
Truth is, we considered not even publishing these grades. The journey to these final evaluations has been so skewed, so warped that it ultimately renders them meaningless. And they even came with their own caveat, courtesy of Florida Commissioner of Education Gerald Robinson.
“As grades for elementary, middle and many combination schools become available, you may notice that some schools have lower grades than last year,” Robinson wrote in a letter to parents. “That does not necessarily mean that the schools, teachers or students are not doing as well as they were before. There were a number of changes to the state’s accountability system this year that impacted the results.
“To help better prepare students for college and careers, the state has been moving to higher academic standards, new assessments that measure students’ progress toward meeting the standards and higher achievement levels for subjects such as reading and math. These new standards, assessments and achievement levels are being used to determine school grades this year.”
Unfortunately, that is not necessarily true.
A bit of history: In July 2011, the Florida Department of Education delivered notice regarding changing the way the writing portion of the FCAT would be graded. Those changes included a higher emphasis on basics such as spelling, grammar and punctuation, as well as a student’s use of logic, specifics and depth in his or her writing.
Under these new standards, writing scores statewide plummeted — only 27% of fourth-graders passing this year, compared to 81% last year. In May, the Department of Education announced it would lower the proficiency score on the test from a 4 to a 3 (on a six-point scale). This change, board officials said, would deliver about the same results as last year.
Fast-forward two months, and now these letter grades — which take into consideration these already-massaged writing scores — come with their own asterisk: No matter how the school performed on this year’s test, no school’s grade was allowed to drop by more than one letter grade.
“What that means is that if a school was an A last year and the FCAT scores would have dropped them to a C or D, that school got a B,” said Linda Cobbe, external communications manager, Hillsborough County Public Schools.
Furthermore, no data exists regarding which schools received that curve. In Plant City, several schools — Bailey, Bryan, Burney, Knights, Nelson and Robinson elementary schools, and Shiloh, Tomlin and Turkey Creek middle schools — posted grades one letter lower than their 2011 scores. However, we don’t — or more importantly, can’t — know whether those were supposed to be even lower.
“There never was a list of ‘original’ grades that differed from those released last week,” Cobbe said. “The grade each school received is its original grade.”
On a positive note, Cork and Lincoln elementary schools actually moved up a letter grade in this year’s evaluations.
This year’s FCAT score snafus are just the latest in a long history of controversy regarding the test, which has been used to dole out state funding. (Schools that improve a letter grade or earn an A receive additional state funds — up to $100 per student. Schools that earn an F also are eligible for additional funding — an average of almost $2,000 per student.) And perhaps, the FCAT will continue to stumble to an unceremonious death, as education leaders plan to replace it with end-of-course exams in two years.