TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores are finally ready.
State education officials released the results Tuesday - a month late.
The long-delayed FCAT results show South Florida's elementary students stumbled, but middle and high school students generally improved from last year in reading, science and math scores that continue to beat statewide averages.
Parents should receive individual scores in the mail next week. School grades are expected in late July.
The scores were supposed to be released by May 19 but only third-grade reading and math and 10th-grade retakes had come out. On Tuesday, the scores for the other 1.6 million fourth- through 11th-grade students were released.
"You can put complete faith in these numbers," Florida Education Commissioner Eric Smith said. "We are extremely confident in the results. Parents should believe in them."
Reading scores in Broward County improved in all but fourth, fifth and seventh grades, where they dropped from 76 to 72 percent at grade level; 72 to 70 percent, and 70 to 68 percent respectively when compared to last year. In Palm Beach County, reading scores improved in all but fourth, fifth and sixth grades, where scores dropped from 74 to 72 percent; 72 to 70 percent, and 69 to 68 percent.
Math scores overall improved in Broward's middle and high schools, with elementary school scores dropping in fourth and fifth grades. In Palm Beach County, scores improved or held steady in all but fourth and ninth grades.
Statewide, reading scores improved in all but the fourth and fifth grades. Math scores statewide either held steady or improved in all but the fourth and ninth grades.
The reading and math portions of the FCAT are given to third through 10th graders. The reading section, however, is especially critical to third-graders, who can be held back if they do not score at least 200 points out of a possible 500. Those scores came out last month.
Sophomores are the students with something on the line this time: Passing the reading and math exams are a must to graduate high school.
Fifth, eighth and 11th grade students take the science exam, which students typically score the lowest on. It counts toward a school's grade but does not affect student graduation or promotion.
Science scores improved in each grade level in both Broward and Palm Beach counties as well as statewide. Still, the scores in Palm Beach County topped those of the state and Broward. In Palm Beach, 54 percent of fifth graders, 50 percent of eighth graders, and 46 percent of 11th graders passed the test.
Smith and Broward Schools Superintendent James Notter said they're pleased with the direction science scores are going but would like to see further improvement.
"We are extremely proud of our teachers and support personnel," Notter said. "In some extremely difficult circumstances, with the economy being what it is and the things that occurred during the year—swine flu and the earthquake in Haiti that brought 1,000 kids into our school system—we had some issues to deal with this year, more so than ever. However, team Broward has come through for our kids."
Students, teachers, principals and district administrators nervously await the release of FCAT scores because so much rides on the state's most talked-about measure of student achievement -- teacher salaries, school funding, the district's image, and most important, a child's promotion or retention. As a result, the tardiness of this year's scores cranked up the tension because so much remained unknown.
Children who attended one of the 21 schools in Broward or Palm Beach County that hasn't met certain federal requirements might get to transfer elsewhere. Since FCAT scores are only one factor, that choice might not come until weeks into the school year.
High school freshmen or sophomores who planned to take music, art or PE are only just learning if they'll be able to do so. If they did poorly on the tests, intensive reading or math could be in their future.
In past years, the state has released all the FCAT scores by early June, with school grades and "Adequate Yearly Progress" reports coming out by the end of the month. Now, those are expected sometime in late July.
The delays were the result of problems with the student database of the state's contractor, Pearson Education Inc. The company and the state insist the results are accurate and valid.
Pearson so far facing at least a $3 million fine because of the delayed results, Smith said.
"We're extremely disappointed and we've been frustrated with the delays in getting the scores," he said. "Our districts and our schools are behind because of these delays."
The switch to a new grading company did come with one scoring change in how the writing results were determined. Unlike last year when students needed to score a 3.5 on the writing test to be considered proficient or at grade level, this year's writers only needed a 3 or higher. That's because one grader instead of two
marked students' writing tests, and averages couldn't be calculated.
The writing test is given to fourth-, eighth-, and 10th-grade students and counts towards a school's grade but not student graduation or promotion.
According to the Florida Department of Education, about 96 percent of both Palm Beach and Broward students earned a 3 on the writing portion of the high-stakes test this year.
Statewide, about 95 percent of students passed the test, often considered the easiest in the series of exams meant to measure students' writing, reading, math and science skills.
Despite assurances from the state that the results are reliable, Notter said he can't help but wonder.
"For me the final test is when the school grades come out," he said. "Many times we see it's the writing score that makes the school or breaks the school in sliding a grade or two."
Notter said Broward will now go into "double crunch" mode.
"We're now having to crunch numbers to look at teacher loads, look at student needs. How do we schedule and reschedule?" he said. "It absolutely puts a double burden on people who frankly already had a 196 days of burden."
On the Treasure Coast:
Statewide, 60 percent of the 10th-graders passed reading, while 84 percent passed math. In Indian River County, 65 percent passed reading, while 87 percent passed the math section. In Martin, 72 percent passed reading, while 91 percent passed math. In St. Lucie, 56 percent passed reading, but 81 percent passed math.
Tenth-grade scores appear to have improved this year over last year. In 2009, statewide, 57 percent of sophomores passed reading, while 81 passed math. In Indian River, 63 passed reading and 87 percent passed math. In Martin, 71 percent passed reading, while 90 percent passed math. In St. Lucie, 50 percent passed reading and 76 passed math.
High school students take the FCAT test as sophomores and must pass reading and math to get a diploma. They have at least five chances to pass it. New laws passed this year calls for the eventual phasing out of the FCAT, beginning with this year's freshmen.
District, school and state FCAT scores were released Tuesday morning, according to the Florida Department of Education. The state is releasing Tuesday reading and math scores for grades four through 10, science scores for grades five, eight and 11 and writing scores for grades four, eight and 10.
Students fared well in writing scores this year, in which almost all students scored a 3 and above out of a possible 6, considered to be grade level work. Students in previous years had two writing prompts they could have been asked. This year, all students got the same prompt. Fourth-graders were asked to write a narrative story, eighth-graders were asked to write an expositive essay and 10th-graders had to write an essay to convince.
Statewide, 94 percent of fourth-graders, 96 percent of eighth-graders and 94 percent of 10th graders scored at grade level. In Indian River County, 94 percent of fourth-graders, 97 percent of eighth-graders and 96 percent of 10th-graders scored at grade level in writing. In Martin County, 95 percent of fourth-graders, 98 percent of eighth-graders and 96 percent of 10th-graders scored at grade level. In St. Lucie County, 96 percent of fourth-graders, 96 percent of eighth-graders and 94 percent of 10th-graders scored at grade level.
Scores in science, however, were not as high.
Statewide, 49 percent of fifth-graders are on grade level, with 43 percent at grade level in eighth grade and 38 percent in 11th. In Indian River County, 51 percent of fifth-graders, 43 percent of eighth-graders and 39 percent of 11th-graders scored at grade level. In Martin, 54 percent of fifth-graders, 57 percent of eighth-graders and 52 percent of 11th-graders scored at grade level. In St. Lucie, 40 percent of fifth-graders, 38 percent of eighth-graders and 31 percent of 11th-graders scored at grade level.
High schools will be looking at eighth-grade scores to determine whether they need to add remedial reading and math courses for incoming freshmen. Statewide, 55 percent of eighth graders scored at grade level in reading and 68 percent were at grade level in math. In Indian River County, 56 percent of eighth-graders scored at grade level in reading and 68 percent in math. In Martin, 69 percent were at grade level in reading and 80 percent in math. In St. Lucie, 52 percent were at grade level in reading and 62 percent in math.
Scores were expected weeks ago, before students left for summer break in early June.
But NCS Pearson, the company that administers the test, experienced computer problems that delayed scores. Third-grade and 12th grade retakes were released last month.
The state Board of Education has announced it plans to fine the company $3 million for the delay in scores. Districts have said the delay has caused problems in scheduling classes and hiring teachers for the 2010-2011 school year. Pearson already has agreed to reimburse districts for the cost of mailing
scores to parents.
DOE told districts Monday the state was asking Pearson to pay for additional costs incurred because of the delay, including having to bring 11-month employees back from summer break to plan classes.
Students in grades three through 11 take the FCAT each year. Fourth-, eighth- and 10th-grade students take the FCAT writing in February. I
March, grades three through 10 take reading and math. Fifth-, eighth- and 11th-grade students also take the FCAT science in March.
Third-graders must pass the FCAT reading or risk retention. High school students must pass FCAT reading and math to get a diploma, but have up to five chances to do so.
Click here for FCAT results
©2007 The E.W. Scripps Co. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.