Despite a tougher grading scale, Florida students in grades four through eight did better than expected on FCAT 2.0 reading and math exams, according to state education administrators.
About six out of every 10 Florida students in those grades passed, according to results released Tuesday.
The state Department of Education announced results for the FCAT 2.0 reading and math exams for grades four through eight, as well as the science scores for grades 5 and 8.
The scores have been closely monitored this year, because of higher stakes for the tests and a fiasco with the FCAT writing results. It is the first year Florida is evaluating students on a tougher grading scale on the reading and math exams. That new scale comes a year after the DOE debuted a more rigorous standardized exam, dubbed the FCAT 2.0, in 2011.
Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said in a statement that “sound transition takes time and patience.”
“We cannot be fearful of change and the ambitious goals set before us. We will meet them together, and I am confident that our students are on the path to success,” Robinson said.
The department also released Tuesday an audit of how the FCAT 2.0 writing tests were graded by Pearson, the testing company that creates and administers the standardized tests. The Buros Center for Testing at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln conducted the audit; Florida has contracted with the center since 2007.
The audit found Pearson had trouble recruiting enough scorers who were qualified to grade essays written by elementary, middle and high school students, which delayed the process. Some scorers who failed to qualify for the job got more training and later qualified, the audit found.
“We raise a question on the retraining of those potential scorers who fail to achieve satisfactory qualifying criteria at the end of training,” the consultants wrote in the final report. “Many of these individuals go through training a second time, something we find to be totally appropriate. However, we also believe that many of these individuals see the same or similar training materials and score the same set of essays on their second qualification attempt.”
Overall, the consultants determined the process for grading the FCAT writing test met “best practice standards in state-wide testing of writing.”
The initial results for the writing test fell so low this year that the state Board of Education changed the passing score.
Robinson told reporters that the results released Tuesday show students are “on the path” to take on national common core standards. As part of that, Florida is moving away from the standardized FCAT 2.0 and transitioning to end-of-course exams.
On the reading exam, 59 percent of Florida students in middle grades passed, scoring a 3 or higher on a 5-point scale. On the math exam, 57 percent of students statewide reached a passing score.
State education administrators recalculated how students performed last year on the new scale to compare FCAT 2.0 results from both years. With that method, they found that on the reading exam, students improved 2 percentage points in 2012. On the math exam, student performance edged up 1 percentage point.
The FCAT scores, especially for third- and 10th-graders students, can impact a student’s time in school. The scores also factor into a state-issued letter grades for schools and reading scores will drive half of the evaluation for teachers this year.