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Florida Changes Standardized Test Grading System, Everybody Fails

The state's release of preliminary results of FCAT testing has put Florida education reporters in a tizzy the past few days, and there have been impressive stories written all over the place about the debacle. In case you don't want to wade through a million inches of copy to understand the craziness, here's a summary of what's happened so far.

Florida public school students take the multisection test every year. Last year, about 81 percent of fourth graders passed the writing section. This year, the state made the grading system harder and took into account things like punctuation and grammar, and only 27 percent passed, prompting officials, schools, and parents to crap themselves in panic.

Tuesday, officials announced a temporary solution to the low grades -- change the scale so more students pass. Until now, schools have been graded based on how many students score a 4 or better on the scale that goes up to 6, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Officials announced yesterday that this year, schools will be graded based on how many students got a 3 or better.

"Those new standards for the writing test were much more rigorous than what we had been using in the past," said Lee County Schools Superintendent Joseph Burke. "Those new standards included important conventions of writing, such as sentence structure, punctuation, spelling, grammar, etc. Those items were not graded in the previous FCAT Writes tests."

The Miami Herald reported that Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson "acknowledged Tuesday that teachers were not adequately prepared for how strictly the tests were going to be graded this year, and said he 'realized that overnight, students didn't just become bad writers.'"

From the way things are being described, it sounds like they've been bad writers the whole time.

The grading shift will mitigate any drastic changes in school grading this year, but that's still left a lot of people arguing about what the numbers mean -- were the tests graded on an unfair rubric? What the hell were the "writing tests" measuring before? Is the state's education accountability system flawed? What's the point of testing if you say the bad numbers don't count? Why don't Florida fourth graders know how to write things?

The Herald reports that decisions about next year's testing will be made in the fall.

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Rich Abdill

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