State admits FCAT scoring error from last year

By Ron Matus
Published May 23, 2007

State education officials said Wednesday they botched one of last year's FCAT tests, potentially affecting everything from school grades and student retention to whether Florida schools passed federal standards under the No Child Left Behind Act.

As a remedy, they promised that from now on, an independent panel of experts would audit every FCAT each year to make sure there are no future glitches.

"This is going to be a new practice from this point forward, " Education Commissioner Jeanine Blomberg said in a press conference this morning. "We feel like this is one more step in terms of best practices."

Wednesday's announcement overshadowed the release of FCAT scores in reading, math and science and promised to put the FCAT - already unpopular with parents and teachers - even more under the microscope.

Under former Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida began using the FCAT to determine school grades, whether third-graders should be held back and whether high school seniors could graduate. FCAT scores are also used by federal officials to determine whether Florida schools should face sanctions for failing to meet standards under No Child Left Behind, which requires that all students be proficient in math and reading by the 2013-14 school year.

The test in question was last year's Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test for third-graders in reading. Last year's results showed 75 percent of third-graders had passed, a record increase of 8 percentage points. But red flags went up three weeks ago, when the release of this year's third-grade results showed only 69 percent had passed - a record drop.

A subsequent Department of Education review determined last year's test was not "equated" properly - meaning, in layman's terms, that it was made too easy. The equating process is overseen jointly by department officials and Harcourt Assessment, the testing company contracted by the state to administer the FCAT.

Department officials said last year's third-grade test will be re-scored in the next few weeks with the help of an independent group of experts, including district superintendents and testing directors. They said they did not know how big an adjustment will be made.

They also said they reviewed every other test used this year and last and were confident the other scores were accurate.

Ron Matus can be reached at 727 893-8873 or matus@sptimes.com.