Article published on May 19, 2012 by the Dayonta Beach News-Journal
Most Flagler students passed the state’s standardized writing exam — thanks to a decision by state officials to lower the bar.
About four out of five Flagler students in grades four, eight and 10 were deemed proficient on the writing portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
But if the state Board of Education hadn’t reduced the passing score from 4.0 to 3.0 on a six-point scale, about two-thirds would not have met that mark. Results from that test, as well as from the ninth and 10th-grade reading tests and 12th-graders who retook the math or reading portions of the FCAT, were released Friday.
Lisa O’Grady, principal of Imagine School at Town Center, said she’s proud of her students and staff, but the Palm Coast school will focus on helping students become better writers at younger ages.
“I was definitely surprised,” O’Grady said about the results. “I think everybody is waiting for the other shoe to drop. The test is becoming increasingly difficult and the grading is becoming increasingly difficult.”
Flagler ninth- and 10th-graders met the state average on the reading exam but about half of the state’s schools failed. The 10th-grade reading exam is a graduation requirement. Those who didn’t make it the first time can retake it up to four times or they can qualify for standard diplomas by getting equivalent scores on the SAT or ACT college entrance exams.
“Florida’s higher standards help ensure students are learning what they are expected to know so that they are prepared for college, career and life,” Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said in a statement. “As Florida transitions to higher standards and higher expectations, we can expect our assessment results to reflect those changes.”
That means lower test scores for students and lower grades for their schools. FCAT scores are the primary factor in determining A-to-F grades for schools. Those that get high grades can earn monetary rewards while schools deemed to be failing can face sanctions that include staff, faculty and student transfers and even closure.
Robinson later said schools don’t have “an inalienable right” to an A. He said state officials expect fewer A and B schools and more pulling a D or F in 2012. Last year, 38 schools received an F. That number is expected to increase to 108 when the grades are released, Robinson said. To soften the blow, the Board of Education last month agreed that for this year only, schools would not lose more than one letter grade.
Though most Flagler students didn’t meet the original passing mark in writing, they “were more prepared for the changes than the rest of the state was,” said Shawn Schmidli, coordinator of assessment, accountability and equity for Flagler schools.
“It was definitely concerning,” Schmidli said about the writing scores. “Even though we’re excited that our schools scored above the state (average), that’s a concern of ours that we plan on addressing because state is going to go back to level 4 for proficiency next year.”
Some administrators applauded the decision to temporarily lower the passing score on the writing portion, but others had urged board members to investigate why the scores plummeted this year. At a few local schools, the percentage of students who passed the test would have been in the single digits if the state officials hadn’t changed the benchmark.
The changes made a big impact at Old Kings Elementary in Flagler Beach, where 26 percent of fourth-graders earned scores of 4.0 or better and 82 percent earned scores of 3.0 or better. Principal Nancy Willis said she was happy her students exceeded the state average, but more training for teachers, especially those who teach at the younger grade levels, is in order. She and her staff will study the data to determine students’ strengths and weaknesses.
“I want our scores a little bit higher,” Willis said. “I felt like they would be this year. We have good teachers and they worked on writing.”
The scoring changes allowed 91 percent of Wadsworth Elementary students to earn passing marks, among the best in the two counties.
“Our teachers consistently teach writing to our students with a laser-like focus on developing all of the skills that are required to do well,” said Robin Dupont, principal of the Palm Coast school.
– The Associated Press contributed to this report.