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FCAT writing test not required for graduation; State reversal causes confusion for officials

By Staff | May 15, 2008

When scores from the writing section of the FCAT were released Friday, local parents, students and teachers were eager to view their scores because, according to the Lee County School District, this year’s test for 10th-graders was a requirement for graduation.

And it had been a requirement for the majority of the school year until one month ago when the state changed its mind.

The Florida Department of Education decided to lift the requirement on April 15. While a memorandum was sent from FDOE to Lee County regarding the decision, some confusion still existed in the school district.

In April, Commissioner Eric Smith made a recommendation to the State Board of Education “to delay for an undetermined period of time the requirement to pass FCAT Writing+ for graduation due to concerns regarding the use of the test for this purpose.” The board accepted his recommendation.

According to a memorandum from Dr. Francis Haithcock, chancellor of Public Schools, to district superintendents across the state, there had been “inconsistencies between scores on the essay and scores on the multiple choice questions making the combination into a single score problematic.”

Besides eliminating the graduation requirement, the board also eliminated the test’s multiple choice section because it felt it could be removed in this tight budgetary year without directly affecting the students.

The FCAT Writing+ was a two-part test, including an essay that is scored from 1 to 6 and a multiple choice section. Students are given a scale score that represents a grade for the entire test, ranging from 100 to 500. The passing score for students graduating in 2009 to 2010 was 300, according to the state board.

This year’s sophomores would have been the first class to have scores counting toward graduation, even though the requirement had originally been put into law in 1999 and made effectual in February 2007.

Some students are breathing a sigh of relief after the state’s decision last month as test results indicate that many of them would not have passed. The Lee County School District’s mean score was 295 on the scale score, five points below what is mandated as “passing” by the state.

If it had been counted toward graduation, there would be many students statewide scrambling to retake the exam to graduate by 2010. According to the 2008 statewide results, 38 out of 67 districts — or 58 percent — scored below 300 and therefore would not have passed.

When Lee County’s scores were announced Friday, district spokesperson Joe Donzelli said the test was still a requirement for graduation, but other reports indicated that it had been lifted. Other district officials were also unclear Friday whether the test counted toward graduation.

English teachers in Cape Coral said they were disappointed that the requirement had been changed after a school year of preparation.

“We felt shock and frustration for all the preparation and work for the kids’ drive for graduation,” said Savanna Gindele, language arts department head at Cape Coral High.

She explained that she had received an e-mail before spring break, and since then teachers have speculated as to what had caused the state to eliminate the requirement on such short notice.

“The students were relieved, but they are still interested in their scores,” said Gindele. “They still have their own schools they want to reach.”