tampabay.com

The real story of the FCAT mistake

By HOWARD TROXLER
Published May 27, 2007


Top 10 Reasons For Florida's Inflated 2006 FCAT Scores

10. State hired unqualified $5.15-an-hour temps to grade the test instead of the usual unqualified $10-an-hour temps.

9. Calculation of scores accidentally included the team ERA of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

8. Possible hacking from a suspect identified by authorities only as "F. Bueller."

7. A helpful talking paper clip popped up in Microsoft Excel saying, "It looks like you're trying to exaggerate your test scores. Would you like some help with that?" and they accidentally clicked "Yes."

6. The scores from 2006 weren't too high -- it's just a plot to explain the crummy 2007 scores.

5. We don't really know why, but the fact that the mistake resulted in record gains in Gov. Jeb Bush's final year had absolutely nothing to do with it, okay?

4. See Dick. See Jane. See Dick and Jane write a test. "This test is easy," Jane said. "Is it too easy?" Dick asked. "No, no, no," Jane said.

3. Secret orders from governor's office to ease up on test difficulty "so we don't hurt anybody's feelings."

2. Average score was higher entirely because of 9-year-old Justin Foobush of Myakka City, who actually took the test this time instead of playing Game Boy for three hours.

And the number one reason for Florida's erroneous 2006 FCAT Scores ...

1. Sorry, but under state FCAT law, it's a secret.

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The weirdest part of this Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test fiasco is that the Department of Education sort of let the news out in passing, during a discussion about this year's scores, and only in response to a question.

At some point in the (presumably) recent past, somebody in the department had to realize:

"Holy cow! Last year's reading numbers for third-graders are wrong!"

And at that point, you know, they coulda blown the whistles and pulled the fire alarms and told the people who both foot the bill. I'm not sayin' there was a coverup, just a certain lack of, uh, urgency in letting folks know.

After all, the FCAT is the All Holy, High-And-Mighty, Be-All and End-All of education in this state now.

The test decides whether kids flunk. It decides whether they graduate. It determines the fates and reputations of entire schools.

Every year, like a scene from the old Soviet Union, all the state pooh-bahs line up and announces how great the latest scores are, and we all cheer. What does it prove? That somebody jiggled some numbers this way or that?

"We're shattering myths again," then-Gov. Jeb Bush declared when last year's scores were announced.

Not quite. It turns out they were only making them.

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In the spirit of shameless self-promotion, I invite you to visit my little spot on our Web site, TroxBlog. There's a news quiz there about events of the past week, a take on the Elijah Dukes situation, comments from readers and transcripts of weekly live chats - there's another chat coming Tuesday.

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