Passing the FCAT might soon be more difficult, and the number of students failing the high-stakes standardized exams could go up if the state Board of Education adopts a new scoring system recommended by Florida's education commissioner.
Education commissioner Gerard Robinson on Monday defended his recommendations to raise the scores needed to pass the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, telling The Palm Beach Post editorial board that the tougher scores will better ensure that graduating high school students are college-and-career ready.
But not all have approved of the commissioner's proposals, with some superintendents and principals across the state saying some of the proposed scores are too high.
The proposed changes - made as part of a move to the more rigorous FCAT 2.0 - mark the first time in a decade new benchmark standards have been set.
Chief in the debate about the new scores has been the commissioner's proposed scores for the ninth- and 10th-grade reading FCAT. Last week, Robinson announced that he's recommending passing scores for the high school reading FCAT that are two points higher than what was recommended by a group of educators and two "reactor" panels of other experts, including superintendents, business leaders and college presidents.
Passing the tenth-grade reading FCAT is a requirement for graduation.
Last school year, the percentage of tenth-grade students statewide passing the reading FCAT was 60 percent. The panel's new scoring recommendation would have dropped that percentage to 56 percent. Robinson's recommendation drops it further, to 52 percent.
That means that, had the proposed scoring system been in place this past spring, about 15,000 more students statewide would have failed the 10th-grade reading FCAT and had to retake it or risk not graduating.
On Friday, the Florida Association of District School Superintendents issued a statement saying that the group is for higher standards, but not as high as the ones Robinson proposed for ninth and 10th grade reading.
"Superintendents have consistently supported high standards, high levels of accountability," said Bill Montford, a state senator and chief executive officer of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. "But they're in touch every day with the principals and the teachers in the classroom, and they are in touch with the implications of the FCAT."
Montford said a number of Florida superintendents were disappointed that Robinson chose not to go with the recommendations that the panels had suggested. He said the two-point difference might not seem like much, but represents a "misalignment" in FCAT scores through the grades.
Joseph Lee, principal at William T. Dwyer High School in Palm Beach Gardens, said he has concerns about how the proposed scoring changes could affect his students.
"My concern is for the students that we're trying to graduate," Lee said. "We want them to be prepared to go off to the next level, but my concern is if we put too many barriers in place for them, especially our at-risk students, there's a concern about them dropping out."
But Robinson pointed out that students who fail to pass the 10th grade reading FCAT have multiple opportunities to try again, or can take an alternate assessment in order to graduate. He said his scoring recommendation is within "the bandwidth" of data that showed that students scoring at that level would be college- and career-ready.
"I'm not discounting what teachers and educators have to say," Robinson said Monday in response to questions about criticism that he chose proficiency scores that are higher than what the panels recommended. "My job as commissioner is to look at the data and look at where Florida will be five to ten years from now."
Lee said he's fielded numerous questions from teachers at his school asking what the proposed FCAT scoring changes might mean for the new teacher evaluations that debut this year. He says he doesn't know what to tell them.
The state Board of Education will have the final say on the proposed FCAT scores when it meets and votes on Monday . The changes would take effect in the spring.
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