FCAT scores: Only 44 percent of Palm Beach County 9th graders pass statewide algebra exam

Less than half of Palm Beach County ninth-graders received a passing score on this year's Algebra 1 end-of-course exam, according to results released this morning by the state Department of Education.

The county's ninth graders' scores - with an average of 44 percent receiving passing marks - fell below the state average of 48 percent of high school freshmen scoring at satisfactory levels, but beat the averages of some of the other large urban districts in the state. That's little consolation to the large numbers of Palm Beach County students who will have to retake the test or risk not being able to graduate high school.

Students entering ninth grade this year or in future years must earn a passing score of 3 out of 5 on the end-of-course exam in order to receive credit for their class and to graduate.

This is the first year that the test - which was rolled out statewide last year - is a graduation requirement for some students. For students who entered ninth grade last year, the test counts as 30 percent of their overall course grade but is not a graduation requirement.

Any student taking Algebra 1 or a similar course is required to take the computer-based exam, which replaced the ninth-grade math FCAT. End-of-course exams are being phased in as replacements for FCATs in several high school-level classes, as the state gradually moves away from most FCATs by 2015.

"I am extremely proud of our students for their hard work and achievement on the Algebra 1 End-of-Course Assessment," Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said in a statement. "I want to thank Florida's teachers for their diligence in preparing students for this challenging assessment."

Overall, 58 percent of Palm Beach County students - grades 6 through 12 - who took the test received a 3 or higher, compared with 59 percent statewide.

On average, students in younger grades did better than older students on the high-stakes standardized test, because in general, younger students who are put in Algebra 1 classes are those who already have shown strong math skills. For instance, 96 percent of the 2,430 county eighth-graders taking the end-of-course exam this year scored at a level 3 or higher, while only 27 percent of the 826 county 10th, 11th and 12th graders did so.

Overall, students taking the test this year did slightly better than last year's test-takers. District and state officials had expected this, saying that teachers have now had more time to align their instruction to what the state expects on the new exam.

Because last year was the first year of the Algebra 1 end-of-course exam, the state had not yet set achievement and passing levels for it. It enacted those later, in time for this year's round of tests.

But had the scoring system for the test been in place last year, only 54 percent of students statewide would have passed, according to simulations released by the state.

Nancy Kinard, a mathematics manager in the Palm Beach County School District's curriculum department, said her office did its own simulation and found that 56 percent of last year's county students who took the test would have scored as proficient.

Kinard said it's a "little disconcerting" that less than half of the county's ninth graders scored at satisfactory levels on the Algebra 1 test, said the district will work with the ones who need help. She noted that the middle schoolers who took and passed the test this year won't have to take it again in ninth grade.

"We're glad for the students who passed it, but there's always room for improvement," she said.

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