FSA: Panels recommend scoring tougher than FCAT



by: Leslie Postal|Orlando Sentinel

September 15, 2015

Florida’s new standardized test should be scored tougher than FCAT, but in a way that half or more of students who tackled it likely would pass most of its exams, according to recommendations from two panels released today.

The two panels — one comprised of teachers, the other of superintendents and other community leaders — recommended that the new Florida Standards Assessments be scored so that from 45 to 61 percent of test takers passed its language arts and math exams. That is based on how students did on the first round of FSA testing this spring.

For example, the passing rate on the fourth-grade reading section of the old Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, was 61 percent last year. The panels recommended a scoring system that would put the FSA fourth-grade passing rate at 54 or 56 percent.

The FSA is a series of standardized exams in language arts and math that debuted this spring and replaced most of the FCAT. The State Board of Education has final say on the way the exams will be scored, a process that is both technical and political.

State leaders have said they want tougher exams that they think will help make sure more students leave high school ready for college. But setting the bar too high — and causing widespread failure — can lead to a loss of public confidence in the test. That is already an issue in Florida, where FSA’s debut was marred by technology glitches, and many think public education is too driven by testing.

The two panels’ recommendations are the first that will play into that final FSA scoring decision. The Florida Department of Education, starting today, is holding three public hearings and an online “webinar” to take public comment on the issue.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart will make her recommendation to the board after the public hearings. The state board will also hear from lawmakers before it makes a final decision.

The FSA includes language arts exams for students in grades 3 to 10, math tests for students in grades 3 to 8 and end-of-course exams for students taking algebra 1, algebra 2 and geometry.

The process to devise an FSA scoring system is similar to the one the education department has used with FCAT and with its end-of-course exams.

Florida students took more than 3 million FSA exams in March, April and May.

The FSA is aligned to the new Florida Standards, the state’s version of Common Core, benchmarks for what students should learn in language arts and math classes.

The new FSA tests are meant to be more challenging than FCAT.

In other states that adopted Common Core — and then new, tougher exams — the percentages of students doing well, compared to their performance on their previous state exams, has sometimes dropped sharply.

In Connecticut, for example, about 39 percent of students met the math target on that state’s new Common Core test compared to 78 percent who met it two years ago on the state’s older exam, the Hartford Courant reported.

But the two Florida panels did not seem to want to see those steep changes.

They did recommend a system, however, that would be tougher.

Another example: The passing rate on the state’s algebra end-of-course exam was 65 percent last year. The educators suggested it be set so the passing rate fell to 50 percent while the other panel suggested a system that would put passing at 60 percent.

More than 300 people — most of them teachers — helped devise these initial recommendations in meetings earlier this month.

The “standard-setting” process aims to figure out how well students need to do on the FSA exams to pass and to be considered below or above their grade level.

The final FSA scoring system will be like that for FCAT and the state’s end-of-course exams — a five-level system with 3 considered passing or satisfactory, 5 excellent and 1 far below proficient.

The panels worked to decide what should separate, say, a level 2 from a level 3 score on each of the FSA exams.

The process is “aspirational,” the education department said in a presentation to a panel of teachers that started the process. “Standard setting is all about what students should know and be able to do, not about what they actually are able to do.”

The public can weigh in at three public hearings, including one Wednesday at Jones High School in Orlando. That meeting is from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Jones’ campus, 801 Rio Grand Avenue.

There is also an online webinar. You can register for that here.

Read the full FL DOE presentation here.

Read article here. 


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