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More FCAT 2.0 results released for reading, math and science

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.

Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho explained in a memo Tuesday what the results meant for the district. The good news: Students improved in some areas, like math across all grades and reading in grades 5 and 8. Gains in several grades in reading and math outpaced other large districts and the state, Carvalho wrote. The bad news: Improvement won’t show up in state-issued letter grades because of other changes to evaluating schools. In particular, grading students still in their second year of learning English at the same level as native English speakers.

“Despite M-DCPS students’ improvement in reading and mathematics, as demonstrated by a comparison of 2011 and 2012 data on the same scale, the measures that will be used as performance indicators for accountability showed substantial declines. This will likely have a negative impact on the 2012 Florida School Grades,” Carvalho wrote.

On reading, a little more than half of students in grades three to eight passed in South Florida: 54 percent in Miami-Dade nd 57 percent in Broward, according to the state results. (Those figures include previously released results for third-graders.)

On the math exam, 56 percent of students in grades three through eight in Miami-Dade passed with a score of 3 or better. In Broward, 60 percent of students in grades 3 to 8 passed the math exam.

On the FCAT 2.0 science, 51 percent of students in grade 5 passed the exam statewide. That’s better than students in grade 8. Statewide, less than half of eighth-graders passed - 46 percent.

In Miami-Dade, 48 percent of students in grade 5 passed the FCAT 2.0 science exam; in grade 8, 43 percent of Dade students passed.

In Broward, 49 percent of students in grade 5 passed the science test; in grade 8, 45 percent of Broward students passed.

For the science exam, students were graded on the same scale as last year. The grading scale is expected to be revamped and get tougher in 2013.

Tuesday’s release marks the last round of test scores for the 2011-12 school year. Schools will distribute individual students’ scores.

The state Department of Education is expected to release the letter grades for elementary and middle schools this summer.

Robinson said next school year, as the state sets the grading scale for more exams, including the FCAT science and the biology and geometry end-of-course exams, the department plans to use much of the same strategy.

One change from lessons learned this year: “Make sure we communicate with the public our standard-setting process,” Robinson said.