Florida’s Department of Education on Friday released partial FCAT results, showing big gains in fourth-grade writing scores throughout the state.
In Miami-Dade, the percent of fourth-grade students scoring at or above the state’s 3.5 required score jumped 11 percentage points, to 58 percent. Broward’s percent of students meeting that threshold rose 10 points, to 64 percent.
“Congratulations to Florida’s teachers and students for the rise in FCAT Writing Scores,” tweeted Gov. Rick Scott.
There were some caveats to the good news, however. Students this year were given a third more time to write their essays (60 minutes instead of last year’s 45), so some of the improvement could stem from children having more time to organize their thoughts.
Also, this year’s exam topic — asking students if they had ever won something special — was likely far easier for students to write about than last year’s subject, which asked students to “imagine what happens” on a camel ride. That question was widely criticized as absurdly difficult.
Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett said local school superintendents praised this year’s FCAT writing question as more “accessible” for students, though Bennett insisted other nuts-and-bolts teaching strategies — such as better teacher training and more classroom attention to proper writing — also contributed to the testing gains.
“I do believe that what we saw is better writing,” Bennett said.
In other FCAT results released Friday, fewer than 60 percent of Florida’s third-graders — 57 percent — are reading at or above what the state considers “satisfactory performance.” The figure represents a slight increase from last year’s 56 percent.
Both Miami-Dade and Broward counties performed slightly below the state’s 57 percent average, with 53 percent of Miami-Dade students scoring at or above grade level, and 54 percent of Broward students doing so.
State officials acknowledged that passing the FCAT reading exams is more difficult than achieving the “basic” grade-level score on the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress. This year’s NAEP scores have yet to be released, but in previous years more than 70 percent of Florida fourth- and eighth-graders have achieved that threshold.
In FCAT math, 58 percent of Florida third-graders scored at or above grade level — a figure unchanged from last year. Miami-Dade performed higher than average in math, with 62 percent of students at or above grade level. Broward’s passage rate matched the state’s at 58 percent.
Broward’s third-grade math and reading scores represented a slight dip from last year, as the percentage of students meeting math proficiency dropped one percentage point, while the percentage meeting the reading standard dropped two points. Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie downplayed those drops as statistically insignificant, and emphasized the double-digit increase in writing scores.
To do well on a writing exam, he said, “you’ve got to be able to use your reading ability, your cognitive skills, to be able to integrate information and put your ideas down on paper.”