Initially, state education administrators defended some mistakes, and resisted changing them. One justification cited by the state: although some of the items were scientifically incorrect, accuracy sometimes had to be sacrificed in order to use “grade-appropriate” terms for 5th or 8th graders.
Krampf wrote back: “If the Science FCAT tests have used the same flawed philosophy of allowing questions to have multiple correct answers because 5th graders are not expected to be that smart, then there are almost certainly students who ‘failed’ the FCAT by giving answers that were correct. That means that there are probably quite a few schools that have been labeled as F schools that actually earned a higher mark.”
Then, in December of last year — 10 months after Krampf’s first e-mail — the state backed down, and altered its guidelines to fix the disputed definitions and sample questions.
Still, Florida insists those errors never made it onto an actual exam, in part because the real test questions go through a highly-intensive screening process.
“The system we have has worked very well, really,” said Cheryl Etters, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education. She said the multiple layers of test question review (done by Florida educators, science professors, and outside independent auditors) “should be a reassurance to the public.”
“We’ve done those kinds of things to make sure that the test is valid,” Etters said.
Florida’s screening process for the FCAT guidelines, however, has historically been less rigorous. But after Krampf blasted the guidelines for their numerous problems, the state will now subject its guidelines to the same fact-checking as real test questions.
And if there are any test questions that don’t match up with Florida’s new-and-improved FCAT guidelines, they are automatically removed from the exam, the state says.
Earlier this month, Florida released its annual FCAT Science results, with student science scores lagging slightly behind scores in reading and math.
Statewide, roughly 53 percent of this year’s 5th graders scored at least “proficient” on the science test, with roughly 47 percent of 8th graders doing so. Miami-Dade and Broward counties performed a bit worse: in 5th grade, 51 percent of Miami-Dade students passed, and 49 percent passed in Broward. For 8th grade, the passage rate was 42 percent in Miami-Dade and 46 percent in Broward.
But Krampf says he doesn’t believe those FCAT numbers, despite the state’s assurances. Because Florida, like most states, doesn’t release its standardized tests, there is no way for Krampf or anyone else to double-check whether confusing questions or sloppy definitions were on the actual test.
Krampf says it’s difficult to accept — without any proof — that the tests are completely error-free when the guidelines that served as their blueprint were so flawed. He also cites the heavy bureaucratic resistance he encountered in trying to fix the guidelines — further evidence, he says, of state leaders’ inability to police themselves.
“I don’t know why they’re so afraid to admit that the stuff is wrong,” Krampf said. “But that makes me suspect that the same paranoia, and the same denial, is taking place with the actual FCAT.”