The State Board of Education voted today to drop the level of proficiency on this year's writing FCAT to a 3 from a 4 after dismal preliminary results were released on Monday.
By lowering the proficiency level by a point on the six-point scale, the percentage of students statewide passing the writing FCAT will be almost the same as last year, a fact that the state hopes will keep all-important school A-to-F grades from being affected too much.
"I will support any motion that will essentially hold schools and districts harmless for this year for writing," board member John Padgett said during this morning's conference call. "We should not have a surprise at this point in time."
On Monday, the state released preliminary results showing that only 27 percent of fourth-graders statewide received a score of 4 or higher, compared to 81 percent in 2011. Similar results were seen in grades eight and 10, the other two grades that take the writing FCAT.
By lowering the passing score this year, 80.78 percent of fourth graders now meet the bar.
The state this year toughened the way it grades the writing portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, placing increased emphasis on grammar, punctuation, spelling and the ability to use supporting details to make a logical argument.
It also added a second reviewer, averaging the two reviewers' grades to come up with students' test scores.
Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said the state did not communicate to schools and districts effectively about some of the changes on the test, in part leading to the nosedive in scores.
School grades have taken on such importance that they have been known to affect property values in neighborhoods that feed into a certain school. A good grade means more money flowing into the school, while a bad grade means the school is put in a remedial program and monitored closely.
Check back later for more information.