Florida Will Omit Vital NCLB Information Due to Scoring Error

Published September 1, 2007

Due to an inability to accurately determine the learning gains of fourth graders–a vital component of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)–Florida’s Department of Education will exclude the data from its calculation of the state’s school grades and teachers’ bonuses for the 2006-07 school year.

The decision comes in an effort to avoid penalizing teachers and students for a scoring mistake that caused inflated scores on the third-grade reading portion of the 2006 Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT).

The department released the test scores on June 29–two weeks after their scheduled post date. The scores are used each year to determine whether third graders are promoted to fourth grade, whether graduating seniors receive their diplomas, teacher bonuses, and schools’ grades.

“To make certain no students, teachers, schools, or school districts are disadvantaged, we will go back and re-equate and rescale the 2006 third-grade FCAT reading exam against a new set of anchor items,” Florida Education Commissioner Jeanine Blomberg said. “We will also use these new results when calculating learning gains for this year’s school grades and federal Adequate Yearly Progress,” a vital component of NCLB.

Two Problems

The state Department of Education was directed to investigate the scoring discrepancy on May 23 after officials discovered the 2007 scores had fallen six percentage points from the previous year. The mistake, which officials chalked up to human error, inflated third-grade reading scores by eight percentage points in 2006.

“Like many of the state’s education leaders, I was troubled by this drop,” Blomberg said. “I immediately directed Department of Education staff to analyze the third-grade FCAT reading data from 2005, 2006, and 2007 to better explain these variations.”

Two problems were found in the set of anchor questions, which are used as a standardized testing technique to equate the scores over a series of years and confirm students are adequately performing to the benchmarks set for their grade level by the state.

“We believe the combination of the change in placement or positioning of the anchor questions, along with the percentage of students correctly answering anchor and test questions not being as closely aligned as they should have been, resulted in an overstatement of last year’s third-grade reading FCAT results,” Blomberg said.

External Committee

The state Department of Education has formed an External Advisory Committee to address the 2006 scoring issues, said James McCalister, former president of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents and current superintendent of the Bay County school district.

“They have put an oversight committee in place to annually review the FCAT to avoid future problems like the one that has occurred,” McCalister said. “They responded positively with the committee, and I am confident that it will ensure the prevention of future error.”

Delayed News

“The third-grade parents have been anxiously waiting to see if their children will be promoted to the fourth grade,” McCalister said. “In addition, those struggling students need summer school, and the start date of the summer school program had to be delayed.”

Bay County delayed the start date of the summer program by one week and used alternative methods, such as past FCAT scores and grades in other core classes, to contact the students expected to benefit from summer tutoring.

Florida’s Department of Education will not lower FCAT standards, and the recalculation of the 2006 third-grade reading FCAT scores will depend on the findings of the independent expert review team. The team will ultimately be responsible for analyzing the results and providing feedback regarding the situation, according to the state Department of Education.

“The FCAT is here to stay,” McCalister said. “It is a valid instrument for accountability to the community and the general public. The testing is needed, and it will remain.”

Jillian Metz ([email protected]) writes from Florida.