Florida and North Carolina Modify Use Of Tests in School Ratings
The week before Florida 10th graders were given the state's reading and math assessment, the commissioner of education announced that the long-answer portion of the test will count toward graduation requirements but not factor into this year's school grades.
In North Carolina, meanwhile, the state board of education has announced that results of the state writing test for 4th and 7th graders will not be factored into school ratings for the next three years. The writing tests given to 10th graders, however, will be included in the ratings, which, like those in Florida, determine teacher bonuses. The North Carolina tests do not count as a graduation requirement.
In the Sunshine State, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, measures students' abilities in reading, writing, and mathematics, through a combination of machine-scored, multiple-choice questions and longer performance, or essay, items, which are graded by hand.
The reading and math sections have been administered since 1998, but this year's 10th graders are the first students who will have to pass the test to graduate from high school.
Passing scores on the standardized test, which 10th graders took last week, have not been set. But state officials hope to set them by this summer, said JoAnn Carrin, a spokeswoman for the Florida education department. If students fail the test the first time, they will have five more opportunities to pass before graduating, she added.
Items To Count
The decision to include the performance items as part of a student's graduation requirements came as a result of a recent public outcry. "We have heard the legitimate call of parents and educators that these items need to count, and this is our response," Commissioner of Education Charlie Crist said in a statement.
Mr. Crist announced the change after negotiating with NCS Pearson. The company that created and administers the tests faced a $4 million fine last year for not returning the scores on time. Florida is in the second year of a three-year, $69 million contract with the Iowa City, Iowa-based company.
This year, 10th graders can expect their results for the machine-scored items and the writing portion of the test in May. End-of-the-year grades, which will include the machine-scored FCAT results, will be issued in June, and the scores for the performance items will be returned to students in July.
July is too late for the scores to be used as a factor in school ratings, state officials say. Just when those scores will again count toward schools' grades has yet to be determined.
The exclusion of performance items from the factors used to determine a school's grade—as well as the amount of teachers' bonuses— has left some people uneasy because this year's results will be compared with last year's scores, which included those items.
"Every year something has changed with the school grading system," said David Clark, a spokesman for the 120,000-member Florida Education Association, which was formed by a merger of the state affiliates of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. "The only thing [state education officials] have been consistent about is their inconsistency."
Union officials have asked that Mr. Crist call a "timeout" from changing the testing policy so that the legislature can convene a bipartisan panel of testing experts to assess the effectiveness of the state test and the implications of the changes.
North Carolina Exclusions
In North Carolina, the decision to exclude 4th and 7th grade scores was in line with a report from a panel of 20 parents and educators that was submitted to the board last month.
A new pool of students with disabilities will be have to take the tests in the 4th and 7th grades for the first time this year, causing "some concern about how that would be factored" into the school rankings, said Vanessa Jeter, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina education department.
All high school sophomores, including those with disabilities, have been required to take the writing assessment, which is why those tests will still be included in school rankings, she said.
Other recommendations from the panel include giving students several days to take the test, allowing them to use selected resources, reading questions aloud, and offering students a choice of questions to which they can respond.
Vol. 20, Issue 27, Page 22Published in Print: March 21, 2001, as Florida and North Carolina Modify Use Of Tests in School Ratings