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Remaining FCAT scores released
By STEPHEN HEGARTY
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 27, 2000
If statewide writing scores released last week were cause for celebration, reading and writing scores released Monday left Florida educators scratching their heads.
Generally, the news was good.
Although reading scores dropped slightly in the eighth and tenth grades, math scores climbed across the board. Reading scores were up in the fourth grade. Schools like Hudson High School in Pasco County appeared to do well enough to avoid a dreaded F rating from the state.
But the latest test scores, a major event in previous years, seemed strangely inconclusive this year. Given all the pressure in Florida's new school accountability system, educators now are simply waiting for the bottom line: the A through F school performance grades, scheduled for release later this week.
"Until we get the grades out, it's all speculation at this point," said JoAnn Carrin, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education.
Both Education Commissioner Tom Gallagher and Gov. Jeb Bush praised the scores from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, each issuing a statement that echoed the other.
"With a renewed focus on resources and accountability measures," Bush wrote, "administrators, teachers, students and parents have proven that regardless of family structure, income level, race or ethnic origin, all students can learn and succeed."
In a press conference Monday morning, Gallagher also warned reporters and educators not to be too confident about trying to calculate school grades based on the scores. The state must weed out scores of some special education students and non-English speaking students before calculating the grades.
"My recommendation (to districts) is play with the numbers, try and figure it out," Gallagher said, adding, "Don't release it to anybody because you've got a chance of being wrong."
Despite the warning, the number crunching and speculation was in high gear Monday.
In Hernando County, school officials predicted none of their schools would rank below a C. In Hillsborough, officials expect to have fewer D-rated schools than last year.
And in Pasco County, where Hudson High School has been on the academic hot seat since it posted poor writing scores, Assistant Superintendent Sandy Ramos sounded confident. Hudson's math scores looked strong enough to avoid a dreaded F-rating.
At Taylor County Elementary School in Perry, which earned an F rating last year, the assistant principal saw plenty to like in the reading and math scores. And that's after a big gain in writing scores last week. Reading jumped from 269 in 1999 to 296 this year, and math climbed from 277 to 302.
"That doesn't surprise me," said assistant principal Mike Thompson. "It shows me that the effort we put forth has paid off."
Speculation aside, Thompson and his staff clearly have left the F grade behind and can start thinking about a C grade or better.
Some educators wouldn't dare speculate. There was too much riding on it.
"Until they adjust those numbers, we don't know," said Linda Brown, assistant principal at A.A. Dixon Elementary School in Pensacola. Dixon, one of two voucher-eligible schools this past school year, has escaped an F rating this year due to writing scores that were off the chart.
But Brown and principal Judith Ladner aren't content with that. They can't wait to see what happens after the state refigures the reading and math scores.
"It could make or break us in reading," Brown said. "I would expect our reading scores to improve; I know what we've done." Dixon's reading scores are improved -- from a 223 score to a 266 -- but it's unclear whether it's enough to meet the state standard. The math scores slipped slightly.
At the state's other voucher-eligible school -- the Spencer Bibbs Advanced Learning Academy in Pensacola -- the principal wanted to see improvement across the board. She got plenty of improvement in writing scores, but only modest improvement in reading and math. (That might be more pronounced when the state adjusts the scores to calculate school grades.)
Though it might seem that great improvements in writing scores would be matched by similar improvements in reading scores, some educators said the two are surprisingly different matters.
"We look at reading and writing as mirror skills, but they are very different tests," said Darian Walker, supervisor of secondary language arts for the Pinellas County schools.
"Writing has been the easiest way to get off the F list," said Carrin with the Education Department. "We have seen some schools that focused on writing to get off the list."
The dramatic improvement in writing scores, unmatched in reading and math, suggests that while schools have discovered how to escape an F rating, a balanced education is a more elusive goal. Educators in some F-rated schools have lamented the laser focus on test material, at the expense of other subjects.
"You can't just try to bring up math scores one year and writing skills the next year," said Ramos of the Pasco schools. "You need to strike a balance."
- Staff writer Shelby Oppel contributed to this report.
-- To review the test scores go to the Department of Education FCAT Web site at http://www.firn.edu/doe/sas/fcathome.htm.
© St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.