2012 FCAT Writing Scores Plummet, Emergency Meeting Announced

TALLAHASSEE, Florida — Florida’s State Board of Education will hold an emergency meeting by conference call on May 15, 2012, at 10:30 a.m.  The purpose of the emergency meeting is to discuss the results of student writing proficiency as measured by the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) and their impact on school grades. 
According to preliminary results released by the Board, only 27% of 4th graders, 33% of 8th graders, and 38% of 10th graders received a writing FCAT score of 4 or above in 2012 versus 81%, 82%, and 75% respectively in 2011.

The Board said in a bulletin that it finds an immediate danger to the public health, safety or welfare based upon the following: School Grades as defined in Section 1008.34, F.S., are based on a combination of factors, including annual student writing proficiency as measured by the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) for fourth, eighth, and tenth grades.  Current Rule 6A-1.09981, F.A.C., awards credit to schools toward their school grades based upon the percentage of students scoring “4.0” or higher on FCAT writing.  The 4.0 threshold is an increase from a previously designated threshold of 3.5.
In May 2011, the Board changed the FCAT writing standards and sent a memo to Florida school districts in July of the same year that the change in the scoring of FCAT Writing in 2012 was to increase expectations regarding the correct use of standard English conventions and the quality of details provided as support.  According to the Board, both of these elements had in the past been scored with leniency.
The manner in which the 2012 FCAT Writing assessment was scored changed from prior administrations for two reasons.  First, the Department returned to the use of two raters to score each test rather than one, and second, the scoring rules required higher proficiency for each level than those in all prior years.  When the increased threshold of 4.0 was established by rule, the State Board of Education did not have, and could not have had, impact data that would reflect how the scoring rules changes would impact student results and the school grade calculations. 
Based on preliminary results of the 2012 writing assessment, applying the 4.0 threshold in addition to the heightened scoring rules may have unforeseen adverse impacts upon school grades, warranting emergency review by the State Board of Education the bulletin said.
A school’s grade has wide-ranging impact for districts, parents, students, and tax-payers. The Board says it is necessary that school grades accurately and fairly reflect a school’s efforts and that the grades be released as soon as possible after the close of one school year to allow school districts time to prepare for the next school year. 
Preparations to be taken by school districts as a result of school grades include: contracting for services to poor performing schools; closing repeat, poor performing schools; shifting staff, students, and faculty; allocating special service cases, reallocating dollars appropriated through the Florida Education Finance Program, and providing opportunity scholarships to students attending failing schools.

The Department concludes that the procedure used is fair under the circumstances based upon the following: The final writing scores and impact data have just become available to the agency and due to the need to release school grades in a timely fashion, a non-emergency meeting would not allow sufficient time to consider the results and impact on school grades. 

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