Leslie Postal, the Orlando Sentinel
Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson wants tougher scoring for all FCAT math and reading exams and, for the reading tests taken by eighth, ninth and 10th graders, an even stricter standard than that proposed by three panels of educators.
If his recommendation is approved by the State Board of Education, the percentage of 10th graders passing the reading section of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test — which they must pass to earn a diploma — could fall from 60 to 52 percent, state data shows.
That could mean about 15,500 more teenagers could fail and then would need to take remedial reading classes and try again to pass the exam before commencement ceremonies their senior year.
The State Board, which has final say, is to vote Dec. 19. The changes would be immediate, taking effect this school year and impacting current high school sophomores.
A new scoring system is needed because Florida recently revised FCAT’s math and reading exams to meet its new, more-rigorous academic standards in those subjects. This is the first time in a decade Florida has set new FCAT “cut scores” — the marks that divide test scores into five levels and determine which scores equate to above, below or at-grade level performance.
Robinson’s decision bucks the recommendations of Florida’s school superintendents as well as other public school and college experts asked to weigh in on the new scoring system.
But it meshes with the wishes of some State Board members, who said they worry the state’s high school standards are too weak, given how many graduates ended up in remedial classes in college. It also follows the suggestions of two politically influential groups, former Gov. Jeb Bush’s education foundation and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
Robinson said he selected a passing score for the 10th-grade reading exam — the key one since it is a graduation requirement — that would make sure Florida students leave high school ready for college.
He said he did not ignore the work of the three panels his staff at the Florida Department of Education asked to recommend new passing scores.
“They gave me ideas, they gave me suggestions,” Robinson said during a press call this morning, adding that he selected an “academically defensible” and “statistically in line” passing score.
“I know Florida students will meet the challenge. They have before,” he added.
Superintendents, 12 of whom served on one of the state panels, agree with Robinson’s recommendations for higher passing scores for all the math exams and for most of the reading tests.
They do so even though “there will be blood on the table,” said Orange Superintendent Ron Blocker, also president of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.
The higher standards likely will lead to more third graders failing FCAT reading and, therefore, possibly being kept from fourth grade, more students requiring remedial classes, lower A-to-F grades for schools and reduced graduation rates, Blocker said.
But superintendents understand that is the fallout of pushing for better instruction in schools, he said.
But Blocker and others strongly objected to even higher passing scores for the last three reading exams because they have long argued those tests have been scored too harshly.
They recommended passing scores slightly lower than Robinsons, ones that would drop the 10th-grade passing rate from 60 to 56 percent.
The difference between their proposals is just two points – and it looks minimal on the state’s charts.
But each one-point change in the 10th-grade passing score equates to 80 more Seminole students failing the test, Vogel said.
Those students end up in remedial reading, losing out on a chance to take an elective, and find themselves on a path that might not lead to a diploma.
“Every one of these numbers are kids,” Vogel said.
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