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What's happening with FCAT 2.0 Writing standards

2014 Update: Welcome, visitors! We've seen a spike in traffic to this blog post, and want to make sure you get the latest: http://www.jaxpef.org/news/2014/05/2014-fcat-20-scores-released-for-writing,-third-grade-reading-and-math.aspx

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June 18, 2013

At today's meeting of the State Board of Education, members discussed the significant impact that a change to the way the FCAT 2.0 writing test is measured could have for many schools and districts throughout the state. (Check out this story on Action News this evening.)

Last year, the threshold used for measuring grade-level proficiency on the FCAT 2.0 writing test was 3.0. But this was only intended to be a temporary measure (due to the fact that it was the first year of implementation for a new, more demanding test), with the expectation that the proficiency threshold would rise to 3.5 for 2013.

Here's why a number of superintendents, including Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, are concerned: Many schools and districts made positive progress in writing this year.  However, comparing the percentages of students scoring 3.0 and above in 2012 to 3.5 and above in 2013 risks creating the impression for many that performance declined significantly.

With the percentage of students scoring at grade level or above in writing counting for 100 points in the calculation of a school's overall grade, Duval County Public Schools said that projections show that this change in how writing is measured could increase the number of F schools in Duval County from two to more than 20.

You can read Superintendent Vitti's statement here.

Complicating matters further, in 2014-2015, FCAT 2.0 Writing will be phased out entirely, replaced by a Writing component section within the PARCC English/Language Arts assessment that is part of the implementation of Common Core Standards. 

It is not clear yet exactly how the new PARCC-based writing component will correspond with the current FCAT 2.0 assessment or scale. It is likely that the writing test will change in a number of ways in 2014-2015, potentially including:

  • New scoring scale (0-4 instead of 1-6)
  • Threshold for a passing score on that scale
  • Time allowed for writing items (60 min. now, unclear what will be under PARCC)
  • How writing scores are reported (one score vs. multiple scores)
  • How writing proficiency will be factored into school grades.

The most important considerations in determining the appropriate scoring threshold for and importance of the 2013 FCAT 2.0 Writing assessment are:

  • How well-aligned and critical is this test for preparing students to meet the demands of the Writing component(s) of the new PARCC-based English/Language Arts assessment to be used in 2014-2015?
  • Will there be any change in how Writing proficiency is considered in school grade calculations based on what types of scores/scales the new assessment might use?

If it is strongly believed that the current FCAT 2.0 Writing assessment is well-aligned with the writing demands of the new PARCC assessments, then there is significant value in pushing schools to achieve higher performance on the current test in order to be well-prepared when the new assessments are introduced.

However, jumping immediately to the 3.5 threshold this year will likely have significant consequences for schools throughout the state, many of which are making progress in the right direction.  A modified approach may make the most sense in terms of steadily raising standards towards the 3.5 threshold next year, while providing a true transition year for schools and districts to more reasonably move with the graduated pace of the rising standard. 

If the current test and new PARCC assessments are not well-aligned, the punitive impact associated with holding students to higher standards on the current test may appear unsupportable in hindsight when this test is phased out for a significantly different one.

 

-- Jason Rose