Two-Thirds of Florida Students Fail Writing Tests This Year . . . Board of Education Solves Problem By Lowing Passing Scores

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.

Source: Orlando

32 thoughts on “Two-Thirds of Florida Students Fail Writing Tests This Year . . . Board of Education Solves Problem By Lowing Passing Scores”

  1. I couldn’t post that comment again. This time I’ll just post a link to the article about ALEC and what the organization has been trying to do to public education over the past forty years.

    What You Need To Know About ALEC
    The now embattled organization has been working to destroy public ed for the past forty years. Here’s what you need to know about how they’re doing it.
    By Diane Ravitch

  2. Back in early 2000’s our youngest daughter was in charge of a three day seminar that involved people in her Corporation from all across the country. She was holding it at a brand new resort in Orlando and the resort, in an effort to introduce themselves, had made the corporate room rate available to all attendee’s family members and extended the time available to include 3 nights after the conference ended.

    Our daughter invited us to come with her. The first three days we were there she was busy so we spent a great deal of time on our own exploring and enjoying the amenities of the resort. I’m a talker and love to engage others in conversation so we spent time talking to waiters, maids, spa workers, restaurant managers, shop keepers, reservation clerks, housekeeping managers, etc. who were going through a shake-down period in the new resort and not very busy during the day.

    These folk were relatively young, early, mid, late twenties and not a one of them had graduated from high school. In fact, I discovered that the graduation rate for high school seniors in Florida was less than 50% across the board with little distinction between races or ethnic groups. The general consensus was that there was no need for a diploma as the sooner they could get to work the better for their career in the service industries.

    A few years later I heard that things had improved and the graduation rate was up but it looks like the basic culture hasn’t really changed.

  3. Information about “Pineapplegate” that Diane Ravitch wrote about:

    On Pearson and Pineapplegate: Kids & future teachers challenge critical tests
    By Beth Hawkins | 05/08/12

    Every once in a while the storytelling gods pry open a crevice in what is otherwise a crucial but deadly dull policy debate and, like clowns from a toy car, out tumble examples of idiocy so dead-on Jon Stewart could not improve on them.

    I refer, of course, to Pineapplegate, the growing education-sector tempest involving the giant standardized testing concern Pearson, the nation’s deepening love affair with testing in all its guises and a few students of all ages who are willing to say flat out that the emperor is wandering around starkers.

    You really are going to want to click through today’s assemblage of links, so I’m going to sketch things in broad strokes.

    Parts of education reform movement have been very good indeed for the publicly traded Pearson, which boasted a fourth-quarter 2011 profit margin of 26 percent. In addition to a growing list of acquisitions in some 70 countries, the corporation has a contract with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to store the results of the student data generated as a part of the Obama administration’s test-centric Race to the Top initiatives.

    And it recently purchased Connections Education, the for-profit cyber-school operator that has been handed a license to print money in the form of a raft of legislation here and elsewhere mandating high schoolers take one or more digital courses to graduate. (Yes, Connections is the American Legislative Exchange Council member you’ve read about in this space in recent weeks.)

    A couple of weeks ago a number of eighth-graders in New York took exception to a test question in which they were asked to decide whether the animals in “The Hare and the Pineapple,” a Daniel Pinkwater parody of the classic fable involving a tortoise and a hare, ate a pineapple that challenged the hare to a race because they were annoyed or hungry.

    As reported by the New York Times:

    “Daniel Pinkwater, a popular children’s book author who wrote the original version of the passage, which was doctored for the test, said that the test-makers had turned a nonsensical story into a nonsensical question for what he believed was a nonsensical test, but acknowledged that he was tickled to death by the children’s reaction.

    “The crux of the passage is that the pineapple challenges the hare to a race, and the other animals are convinced the pineapple must have a trick up its sleeve and will win. When the pineapple stands still, the animals eat it. The moral of the story: ‘Pineapples don’t have sleeves.’”

    Stupid, right? Well, actually worse. As one of the Washington Post’s education bloggers noted, kids — and the teachers and principals who are now being evaluated on the basis of their test scores — have a lot riding on the fact that a farcical question can have a right answer:

    “How could such an item, for which many adults struggled to choose a logical answer, be used to make incredibly high-stakes judgments about students, teachers and schools? At the end of the day, the students’ responses to questions about this story will be used to judge the relative merits of different schools, teachers, and principals.”

    And now teacher candidates, apparently. Sixty-seven potential middle- and high-school teachers at the University of Massachusetts’ Amherst campus are refusing to take part in the development of a new national licensing test being developed by Pearson in conjunction with Stanford University.

    Again, via the New York Times:

    “They have refused to send Pearson two 10-minute videos of themselves teaching, as well as a 40-page take-home test, requirements of an assessment that will soon be necessary for licensure in several states.”

    Adding insult to injury, they will be judged by work-at-home scorers who are sometimes paid $75 per evaluation. The plucky UMass kids seem to think their professors and the teachers observing them on the job for six months in actual classrooms have a better idea whether they are qualified to teach.

    They may be qualified to teach, but are they cut out for public education circa 2012?

  4. “The risk of critical education is that if schools are constructed as genuine public spheres, outcomes are not guaranteed.”
    — Stanley Aronowitz, Introduction to “Pedagogy of Freedom”

    Similar to Friedrich Hayek’s insistence in “Road to Serfdom” that markets only work when the outcome of their behavior is unpredictable.

    Puts an odd spin on “Race to the Top” competitive school funding: that is, if schools are to provide a standardized education under a market-based model, they don’t in any meaningful sense “compete.”

  5. One of my sisters has been teaching school here in Florida for 35 years. If I’m in the mood to send her off on a rant, all I have to do is call her and ask, “Hi, Sis, can you say FCAT?” It’s cruel, I know.

  6. I know this is about Florida, and I wanted to respond, but the story has too many big words in it.

  7. “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.”

    Ever since the fraud of “no child left behind” was imported by W from Texas, the emphacis is education has been testing rather than actually fixing the system. Schools across the country are ill-funded, except in wealthy locales, and the outrage is expressed by the same politicias who cut funding when no improvement is reached.
    It’s a shell game played on two levels. The first is to lower tax rates as a sham of fiscal responsibility and the second is to ensure an ill-educated American electorate. All the better to screw you with says the conservative elite.

  8. I may have the minority opinion here. I was a public school educator for more than thirty years. I witnessed what high stakes testing was doing to education in the school where I worked. It wasn’t improving the learning experience for our students; it was having a markedly negative impact on it. It’s the reason I left the classroom. The school board and administration began restricting field trips. There was pressure on teachers across the system to all be on the same page of the math book at the same time. Because of high stakes testing, education had become much more about prepping children for tests than about meeting their educational needs.

    Before casting judgment on the reason(s) for the students’ poor performance on the writing test, I’d like to see the test, know who corrected the tests and whether they were experts in writing, find out more about the scoring scale and what “4 out of 6” means.


    The Problem Is Bigger Than a Pineapple
    By Diane Ravitch on April 24, 2012

    Dear Deborah,

    The backlash against high-stakes standardized testing is growing into a genuine nationwide revolt. Nearly 400 school districts in Texas have passed a resolution opposing high-stakes testing, and the number increases every week. Nearly a third of the principals in New York state (some at risk of losing their jobs) have signed a petition against the state’s new and untried, high-stakes, test-based evaluation system.

    Today, a group of organizations devoted to education, civil rights, and children issued a national resolution against high-stakes testing modeled on the Texas resolution. The National Testing Resolution urges citizens to join the rebellion against the testing that now has a choke-hold on children and their teachers. It calls on governors, legislatures, and state boards of education to re-examine their accountability systems, to reduce their reliance on standardized tests, and to increase their support for students and schools.

    The National Testing Resolution calls on the Obama administration and Congress to “reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality in accountability, and not mandate any fixed role for the use of student test scores in evaluating educators”.

    The organizations that have joined to oppose high-stakes testing include the Advancement Project; the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund; Fairtest; the Forum for Education and Democracy; MecklenburgACTS; the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc.; the National Education Association; the New York Performance Standards Consortium; Parents Across America; Parents United for Responsible Education (Chicago); Time Out from Testing; and the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries.

    I hope that parents and teachers everywhere endorse this important statement of principle and bring it to their local and state leaders for consideration.

    By coincidence, standardized testing was exposed to national ridicule this week because of a nonsensical question about a pineapple and a hare on the New York state English language arts test for 8th graders. Complaints about the pineapple story appeared on the New York City parents’ listserv, were reported in the New York Daily News, and then went viral overnight with postings on Facebook and Twitter. The New York City parent blog has a good summary. The Wall Street Journal published a hilarious interview with the real author of the fake testing story. On Twitter, it was referred to as #pineapplegate. The pineapple story was covered by The New York Times and The Washington Post.

    But the state’s high-stakes testing examinations are no joke. The principal of a high-performing school wrote a letter to the state commissioner complaining about the quality of the questions in every grade. Teachers of the deaf said their students were asked to answer questions about sounds “such as the clickety-clack of a woman’s high heels and the rustle of wind blowing on leaves.”

    There is madness in tying teachers’ careers and reputations to their students’ scores on such low-quality and incoherent examinations. Our policymakers have chosen to ignore the research warning that value-added assessment is inherently fraught with error, instability, and unreliability. Children are not wheat, their growth is not utterly predictable, and the standardized tests capture only a subset of what matters most in education.

    But, Deborah, as the National Testing Resolution explains, there is a far larger question at issue here than the accuracy of the test questions. Even if the tests contained no absurd questions; even if the tests were flawless, the misuse of test scores is an affront to educators and to students. There may be diagnostic value in standardized tests, but they are now being treated as scientific instruments. What Pineapplegate demonstrates is that they are not scientific instruments. They are cultural artifacts, social constructions, created by fallible people. They should be used appropriately to provide useful information to teachers, not to punish or reward them.

    At present, the standardized tests are used inappropriately. There should be no stakes attached to them. Decisions about teacher evaluation should not be tied to student scores. Decisions about bonuses should not be tied to student scores. Decisions about closing schools should not be tied to student scores. Decisions about retaining students should not be tied to student scores. All of these are weighty decisions that should be made by experienced professionals, taking into consideration a variety of factors specific to the child, the teacher, and the school.

    Tests are a tool, not a goal. We should use them as needed, not let them use us. Their misuse has turned them into a weapon to narrow the curriculum, incentivize cheating, promote gaming the system, and control teachers. The more we rely on high-stakes standardized tests, the more we destroy students’ creativity, ingenuity, and willingness to think differently, and the more we demoralize teachers. The important decisions that each of us will face in our lives cannot be narrowed to one of four bubbles. We must prepare students to live in the world, not to comply on command.

    The National Testing Resolution calls on all those who are concerned about the future of our society and the well-being of children to stop this mad obsession with test scores.

    I hope the revolt grows until it consumes the terrible cult of measurement that has now so distorted the means and ends of education.



    Diane Ravitch
    Curriculum Vitae

  9. There is no indication on the website that I found that says they changed the test or the scoring. Maybe one of our eagles will find it.

  10. Florida is implementing a new test program in Reading, Math and Science. The Writing test is apparently being phased out. The criteria for scoring the writing tests:

    Description of Writing Scores

    For the Florida Writing Assessment, students are given 45 minutes to read their assigned topic, plan what to write, and then write their responses. The descriptions of eleven possible scores from 6.0 – 1.0 are given below.

    Score 6.0:

    The writing focuses on the topic, is logically organized, and includes ample development of supporting ideas or examples. It demonstrates a mature command of language, including precision in word choice. Sentences vary in structure. Punctuation, capitalization, and spelling are generally correct.

    Score 5.5:

    The writing was given a 5 by one reader and 6 by the other reader.

    Score 5.0:

    The writing focuses on the topic with adequate development of supporting ideas or examples. It has an organizational pattern, though lapses may occur. Word choice is adequate. Sentences vary in structure. Punctuation, capitalization, and spelling are generally correct.

    Score 4.5:

    The writing was given a 4 by one reader and a 5 by the other reader.

    Score 4.0:

    The writing focuses on the topic, though it may contain extraneous information. An organizational pattern is evident, but lapses may occur. Some supporting ideas contain specifics and details, but others are not developed. Word choice is adequate. Sentences vary somewhat in structure, though many are simple. Punctuation and capitalization are sometimes incorrect, but most commonly used words are spelled correctly.

    Score 3.5:

    The writing was given a 3 by one reader and a 4 by the other reader.

    Score 3.0:

    The writing generally focuses on the topic, though it may contain extraneous information. An organizational pattern has been attempted, but lapses may occur. Some of the supporting ideas or examples may not be developed. Word choice is adequate. Sentences vary somewhat in structure, though many are simple. Punctuation and capitalization are sometimes incorrect, but most commonly used words are spelled correctly.

    Score 2.5:

    The writing was given a 2 by one reader and a 3 by the other reader.

    Score 2.0:

    The writing may be slightly related to the topic or offer little relevant information and few supporting ideas or examples. There is little evidence of an organizational pattern. Word choice may be limited or immature. Sentences may be limited to simple constructions. Frequent errors may occur in punctuation, capitalization, and spelling.

    Score 1.5:

    The writing was given a 1 by one reader and a 2 by the other reader.

    Score 1.0:

    The writing may only minimally address the topic because there is little or no development of supporting ideas or examples. No organizational pattern is evident. Ideas are provided through lists, and word choice is limited or immature. Unrelated information may be included. Frequent errors in punctuation, capitalization, and spelling may impede communication.

    Home page of FL DoE
    Much of the information seems out of date, e.g. “Next Generation Strategic Plan – for approval December 2010.” Was it approved? As is or with changes?

  11. What is wrong with this :”Two-Thirds of Florida Students Fail Writing Tests This Year . . . Board of Education Solves Problem By Lowing Passing Scores. “

  12. I lived in that toilet with palm trees for a few years & their educational decisions are obscene! They have pulled every trick in the book to avoid funding education and have been reaping the harvest for years. They are amongst the lowest per capita in spending for education in the country. They had at the time (early 90’s) the lowest graduation rate in the country and 50% of all Floriduh HS grads (public AND private school) needed remedial math and English in college. Even the grads are not that well educated.

    This is the libertarian/conservative model for America. When called on it they blame the teachers unions who have no real power to fund education and too little control over the subject matter they teach.

    And, no, neither I nor any of my family work in teaching.

  13. I bet 4 out of 6 can aim straight, shotgun beers, and sing “Amazing Grace” though. it’s all a matter of family priorities.

  14. Lowering passing test scores after the test sounds perfectly reasonable. Just following the example of our President, Congress, and Courts who retroactively immunize their corporate elite cronies for violating any crime imaginable.

  15. When are “finger skills” like Twittering and Facebooking going to replace English composition? Soon, hope many.
    Let’s get with it, go moderns,they say.

  16. “I am surprised by the huge difference in passage rate,”

    I’m not sure I understand. If I understand the article, and I probably don’t, they both altered the test and raised the passing requirements, and yet, probably have done little in the classroom to ensure students would have the material, resources, and teaching needed to meet the new requirements.

    “This is the first year students and schools will be assessed on the basis of tougher tests and scoring systems, expecting to result in more students failing the FCAT and lower school grades.”

    “”They’ve asked students to do more, but that’s pretty dramatic,” said Florida Education Association spokesman Mark Pudlow”

    It’s really not fair to the students to give them a shitty educational experience, but it’s doubly crappy to change tests and the scoring system in one year and mandate they reach the new goal posts without having altered the teaching.

    I am sure their educational experience is rotten, pretty much everything is in America since I graduated. Goddamn snow, and the stupid gravity anomaly my parents insisted we live by.

  17. Appearances are everything, apparently. Change the passing grade to 1 out of 6 and everybody is happier, the students that did not have to learn, the teachers that did not have to teach, the parents that did not have to discipline the child that did not learn, and did not have to agitate against the school that did not teach. The politicians that did not have to face those parents is happier, he does not have to revamp the school, raise taxes, or spend money on anything besides his own pet “legacy” projects.

    Everybody is happier! For the moment….

  18. That is the way Bush II got rid of the robber barons. “Where there is no law, there is no sin.”

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