Board of Education schedules emergency meeting after dramatic drop in FCAT writing exams

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. -- Tenth-grade teacher Coleen McDonald has been an educator in Palm Beach County schools for more than two decades.  After a few years away from the classroom, she returned to Forest Hill Community High School to find a different set of challenges. 

"The quality of my sophomore's writing was significantly less than what I had seen when I left in 2005," said McDonald.

Early statewide FCAT scores prove McDonald right. 

Writing scores on the FCAT took a tumble this year. Among Florida fourth graders, 81 percent received a passing grade last year. This year, that number shifted to just 27 percent, according to the State Board of Education. 82 percent of 8th graders passed in 2011; 33 percent this year. 

When it came to 10th graders, 80 percent passed the writing portion of the FCAT last year compared to the 38 percent now, according to the preliminary statistics.

Responding to the dramatic drop in writing scores, the Board of Education will have an emergency conference call Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. to consider reducing the passing grade.

McDonald said she feels this year's test was tougher for both students and teachers. 

"They have to know what the bar is and I'm not sure that we had enough information about the bar to know what we were aiming for," she said.

The downward trend may be a result of the Board of Education's recent increase in expectations for student's writing and grammar.

The abrupt change left some less prepared. 

"You cannot go into teaching or a situation of high stakes testing blindfolded," said Mary Stratos, principal at Forest Hill Community High School.

Individual school FCAT results could be out in days and McDonald hopes her students -- and her teaching -- buck the state's preliminary numbers. 

"I really want to have a clearer sense of what they want from us so I can help my students get there," she said.

West Palm Beach resident Robert Patterson said the tests are a waste of taxpayer money.
 
"They are not teaching, they are teaching to take a test. So the children are coming out of school knowing how to take one particular test. And it's going to spiral down," Patterson said.
 
John Planz said perhaps the world of writing has changed for the youngest generation.
 
"Grammatically, I think there are quite a few mistakes because you're going faster, that's an opinion," Planz said.

Florida Governor Rick Scott released the following statement regarding the test scores:

"Our students must know how to read and write, and our education system must be able to measure and benchmark their progress so we can set clear education goals. The significant contrast in this year's writing scores is an obvious indication that the Department of Education needs to review the issue and recommend an action plan so that our schools, parents, teachers and students have a clear understanding of the results."

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