The Florida Board of Education has a curious way to combat poor passage rates for students on writing exams — they lowered the passing scores to engineer success. Two-thirds of students in Florida failed to pass the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test exam — a sharp drop from the prior year. This was an effort to force high performance but it backfired with widespread failures.
I have long been an advocate of longer school years and tougher test requirements. I am concerned with a sharp decrease in passage rates when the prior year showed an 80 percent passage. However, these do not appear a particularly high standard for passage and we are seeing more and more students graduate high school with minimal ability to write.
This was the first year that students and schools will be assessed on the basis of tougher tests and scoring systems. This move was the result of widespread failures on the FCAT and other standardized tests for public school students. The new standards required basic skills like proper punctuation, capitalization, and spelling. Students had to get a 4 out of 6 on the grade. That is pretty reasonable. The old standard was 3.5 which would mean that you could get almost half wrong and still pass.
The change resulted in only 27 percent of fourth-graders passing as opposed to 81 percent the prior year. For eighth graders the passage rate was 33 percent — down from 82 percent in 2011.
Florida has been given a waiver by the Obama Administration from No Child Left Behind.
I am surprised by the huge difference in passage rate, but I am inclined to believe that this is another sign of our underfunding of public schools and growing class sizes. Our students should be able to score a 4 out of 6 on writing — a critical skill for success in the workplace. I would be more inclined to change the curriculum and resource package than the test for that reason.