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Officials withhold test scores

The Inspector General's Office will investigate why Florida reading scores were so inconsistent.

By STEPHEN HEGARTY

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 30, 2000


Education Commissioner Tom Gallagher has called for an investigation into a set of test scores that were so inconsistent the state has refused to release the results.

Gallagher asked the Inspector General to determine how reading test scores for two grade levels ended up so far outside the expected range that the state has deemed them unusable. The scores are not from the high-profile FCAT test released this week but from a lesser-known test intended to provide a basis for comparing Florida students to their peers nationally.

"Because of the inconsistencies, the case has been referred to the Inspector General's Office for investigation so we can determine how the whole thing happened," said JoAnn Carrin, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education. The Inspector General conducts audits and investigations for the DOE.

This year for the first time, students in grades 3 through 10 took the Stanford 9 test -- known as a norm-reference test. The students' score tells them how they performed compared to other students around the nation with a score of 50 being average. Scores generally are bunched up around 50, especially for a large group of children such as statewide scores.

Math scores for all grade levels were released. They show that Florida students tend to perform above the national average. Only the seventh-graders, with a score of 48, fell below 50. The highest score was a 63 for fifth-grade.

Reading scores were a troublesome package. Only the fourth-graders (56) and eighth-graders (54) were above 50. The fifth-graders (45) and sixth-graders (43) were low.

The scores for grades 9 and 10 were so low, DOE officials immediately began asking questions. One thing they checked was how Florida 10th-graders have performed on other norm-referenced tests. Historically, they had been well within normal and expected ranges. But this group posted scores so far out of the expected range that state testing experts felt they must be inaccurate.

"The statewide scores for grade nine and 10 reading are inconsistent with all other grades and subjects," Tom Fisher, director of assessment for the state wrote in a memo this week.

Education officials declined to speculate on what could have caused the inconsistencies. Possibilities include problems in the scoring or in the "norming," the process for summing up student performance nationally and determining the average score.

The test is intended to supplement the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, a test made for Florida students. The FCAT does not enable educators to make comparisons to students in other states, but a national norm-reference test such as the Stanford 9 makes those comparisons possible.

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