PALM BEACH COUNTY
By Sonja Isger, Adam Playford and Allison Ross-Ferrelli Palm Beach Post
Palm Beach County schools were saved by the Florida Department of Education from a slew of failing writing FCAT scores this year, according to results released this morning.
Overall, 85 percent of county fourth-graders received a "proficient" score on this year's writing test, compared with 81 percent statewide. The county similarly edged out the state average when it came to writing FCAT scores for eighth- and tenth-graders, the other two groups to take the writing FCAT.
Palm Beach County's scores would have been far more dismal had the state not, at the last minute, dropped the bar for proficiency on the high-stakes standardized test.
Passing rates in fourth grade writing had been 32 percent before the bar was lowered creating an 85 percent passing rate. Eighth grade passing rates that were at 40 percent, hit 84 percent, and in tenth grade the passing rates went from 49 percent to 89 percent, according to the state's numbers.
Earlier this week, the state released numbers showing that only 27 percent of the state's fourth-graders received a passing score of 4 or higher, compared with 81 percent in 2011.
Worried about how the nose-dive would affect schools' crucial A-to-F grades, the State Board of Education voted Tuesday to lower the passing score from a 4 out of 6 to a 3 out of 6. That essentially put the statewide passing rate about on par with last year. It was the third time in as many years that the state has redefined what counted as a passing score on the test.
The switch was necessary after the state toughened the way it grades the writing portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test this year, placing increased emphasis on grammar, punctuation, spelling and the ability to use supporting details to make a logical argument. The state also added a second reviewer, averaging the two reviewers' grades to come up with students' scores - which is how the test had been scored until several years ago, when the second reviewer was cut.
Those factors, the state says, led to the decline in scores this year.
Also this morning, the state released FCAT reading results for ninth and tenth graders. The results show that 54 percent of county tenth graders passed the crucial test, which is required for graduation and was taken on computer this year for the first time. That's an improvement over last year's 43 percent passing rate and exceeds the state's passing rate of 50 percent.
Fifty-three percent of ninth-graders passed the reading test, again an improvement over last year's ninth-grade scores and the state's 52 percent passing rate.
By Colleen Wixon, Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers
As expected, FCAT writing scores were low this year along the Treasure Coast, but many fell in line or exceeded state averages at each grade level.
Martin's writing scores exceeded state averages at each level. Indian River met state averages in fourth and eighth grades, but fell just below the state in 10th grade. St. Lucie fell just below the state average in all levels.
A handful of 2012 Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores were released Friday morning.
Writing scores were expected to be low this year, according to statewide scores released earlier in the week for the fourth-, eighth- and 10th-graders who took the test. The scores were so low the Florida Board of Education changed the proficiency level score from a 4.0 out of a 6 to a 3.0.
Indian River's average writing scores was 3.3 for fourth grade, 3.3 for eighth grade and 3.3 for 10th grade. St. Lucie's average writing scores was 3.2 for fourth grade, 3.2 for eighth grade and 3.3 for 10th grade. Martin's average writing scores was 3.4 for fourth grade, 3.7 for eighth grade and 3.5 for 10th grade.
The state average writing score was 3.3 for fourth grade, 3.3 for eighth grade and 3.4 for tenth grade.
For Indian River 12th graders, taking the test for the last time before graduation, 11 percent passed the reading test, while 24 percent passed math. In St. Lucie, 16 percent passed reading and 15 percent passed math. In Martin, 13 percent passed reading, while 18 percent passed math.
High school students begin taking the FCAT in 10th grade and must pass math and reading to get a high school diploma. They have up to six chances to pass the test before graduation.