Statewide FCAT advisory group attempts to fix problems with 2006 scores

06/13/07 Seán Kinane
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Last month, the Florida Department of Education admitted that third-grade reading scores were inflated on the 2006 Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT. This morning at Tampa’s Grand Hyatt, the DOE’s second FCAT External Advisory Group met to discuss recommendations to deal with those problems. They will propose these recommendations to the State Board of Education next week. The faulty 2006 scores affect three areas: a requirement of No Child Left Behind that students meet Adequate Yearly Progress standards, teacher performance pay, and, as DOE’s Office of Evaluation and Reporting Director Juan Copa explains, School Grades for this year, which depend, in part, on the percent of students who improved from last year.

“Those scores were higher than expected, or another way of looking at it, inflated. That fact would likely depress the percentage of students making learning gains this year.”

The advisory group, which included superintendents from around the state, assessment specialists, and other stakeholders, agreed to recommend to the State Board of Education that 2006 FCAT 3rd Grade Reading results be excluded from these calculations or that the adequate progress requirement be suspended. Schools are required to test a minimum number of students who fall into certain categories, or cells. But it was recommended that a school would not be in violation if it passed the cell-size determination in 2006, even if those faulty scores are not counted.

“Exclude the 2006 FCAT 3rd Grade Reading results for the purposes of calculating gains with the safeguards in place that if the inclusion benefits the schools, that inclusion will be there, and also if all cell-size determinations will be based on the inclusion so that we don’t disadvantage schools that would have received a grade if there was no issue with third grade [scoring]. Option three is the suspension of the adequate progress requirement across the board. There would be no penalty for not meeting that fifty-percent threshold.”

The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires that schools score perfectly in a set of 39 criteria. Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP would cause some schools to fail if the inflated 2006 scores were used. Four options were discussed on how to account for these scores in dealing with AYP. Paul Felsch, the Director of Student Assessment of Leon County, suggested that calculations should be made to see which one benefits schools the most and Wayne Blanton of the Florida School Boards Association responded that he thought the one that puts Florida in the best light should be chosen.

Felsh: “I don’t know how much you want to game this, but you could run it all four ways and see which way comes out to your advantage. Because right now I don’t know that there’s a logical reason to choose one over the other.” Blanton: “May I make a comment? Which one makes us look best? … Other states are doing their thing. Why shouldn’t we want to use the option that makes Florida schools look the best?”

WMNF asked Florida Department of Education Commissioner Jeanine Blomberg, whether erring on the side of higher scores might come back to haunt schools if scores are corrected back down in the future. But she said that school grades would not be affected by rescoring.

“We would not recalculate school grades or AYP. If we rescore, it would be to establish a different baseline for students in 2006.”

Mary Ellen Elia, Superintendent of Hillsborough County Schools, had a similar response.

“I think that you’re going to see that there are not going to be all that many schools that move up incredibly. I think what you’re going to find is this is a fair approach to hold schools as harmless as possible. There are always nuances that will affect school grades, but it will hold them as harmless as possible and I think that is definitely the fair thing to do.”

Another issue that will be affected by the inflated 2006 scores is teacher performance pay, which is tied to student performance on FCAT. Some teachers unions oppose merit-based pay, especially when it is tied to a single factor such as the performance of students on a test like the FCAT. But Superintendent Elia is in favor of performance pay.

“I am in favor of any program that can get pay in front of teachers. I think that it’s very critical in that we hold our students accountable, our teachers are accountable and our administrators are accountable. And I think performance pay is a good thing. We have supported it in Hillsborough County from the very first.”

The FCAT Review Committee will recommend to the State Board of Education that Value Tables accounting for the errors in the 2006 FCAT are made available to districts. The districts will have the option of using them or not in determining merit pay for teachers.

They also decided to appoint a subgroup to select an Independent Reviewer for the FCAT, which will review the 2006 Grade 3 FCAT Reading test scores and plan for ongoing yearly reviews so a similar mix-up doesn’t occur in the future.

Again, Department of Education Commissioner Blomberg

“Identifying an independent review team to come in and basically work with us to validate what we identified as issues … should we rescore and how… insure that we have an independent review on an annual basis.

But not everyone on the panel thought that the FC AT is the best option for determining the quality of students, schools, or teacher pay. Robert Lange is a retired college professor and is on the FCAT Advisory Group representing the Florida Coalition for Assessment Reform.

“It’s a terrible mistake. It’s invalidity to use a single test for any purpose that has high-stake decisions. So what has to happen is all of these high-stake decisions based on a single test has to go out the window. It’s destroying the school curriculum; it’s destroying the future economic structure for the State of Florida; and for the nation to that extent. Our schools are not producing kids who have the ability to compete internationally largely because we’re focused just on them how to respond to a single test.”

The Florida Board of Education meets next Tuesday where they will consider the recommendations made today by the FCAT Review Committee.


Florida Department of Education:

Commissioner Jeanine Blomberg, Florida Department of Education

Florida Coalition for Assessment Reform

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