Third Graders at Risk for Being Held Back after Poor FCAT Scores

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – The segment of third graders facing possible retention due to low standardized reading scores increased by 2 percentage points to 18 percent on the tough, new Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, state education officials said Thursday.

Reading and math proficiency scores dropped much more dramatically, though, on the FCAT 2.0 this year for third-graders compared to 2011 due to a more rigorous grading scheme. That’s a result educators had predicted due to higher standards that went into effect this year, but it turned out to have a smaller effect on the potential retention rate.

Third graders who score just a one on a one-to-five scale on the reading exam can be held back for another year unless they successfully complete an alternative skills assessment. That can include consideration of a portfolio of the students’ work or passing summer remedial classes.

Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said the alternative assessments typically cut the number of students held back about in half. More than 90 percent of third graders have been promoted annually since 2006. Last year, only 7 percent were retained.

This year 36,577 students are facing potential retention. That’s up from 32,429 last year and the highest it’s been in four years. There is no similar promotion requirement for math proficiency.

“The future success of third grade students depends on mastering essential reading skills,” Robinson said in a statement. “Today’s results help us determine how and where we should focus our resources so students who are struggling with reading get the extra help they need to succeed.”

FCAT results also are the major component for determining A-through-F school grades the state uses to financially reward top schools and sanction failing schools, including faculty, staff and student transfers and even closure.

Thursday’s results show 56 percent of third graders are reading at or above grade level by scoring three or higher on the one-through-five scale. For math it’s 58 percent.

Students last year took the FCAT 2.0 for the first time, but scores then were computed according to a previous grading scheme. As a result, 72 percent passed the reading test and 78 percent passed the math exam.

The 2011 tests now have been rescored using the new grading system, and the results are nearly the same as this year – 57 percent for reading and 56 percent for math.

To soften the blow of lower FCAT scores on school grades, the State Board of Education last month ordered that no school can drop more than one letter grade this year.

The board later passed an emergency rule that lowered the passing grade for the FCAT 2.0 writing test after preliminary results showed only a third of students in the fourth, eighth and 10th grades would have passed compared to 80 percent or better last year. The rule, also in effect just for this year, increased the percentage passing to about the same level as 2011.

FCAT 2.0 reading results for high school students were released last week. They showed about half of ninth and 10th graders failed the exam. Passage of the 10th grade test is a graduation requirement. The nearly 89,260 students who failed the exam this year can retake it up to four times or they can qualify for standard diplomas by getting equivalent scores on the SAT or ACT college entrance exams.

The state next will release FCAT reading and math results for other grades before computing school grades.