Bay District School Officials Alert Parents to Changes with F-CAT Grading System

Panama City - Bay District School officials are trying to make parents aware of major changes to the F-CAT grading system which could affect their child's score and their school's grade. In December the State Board of Education raised F-CAT scores for reaching passing level, making the cut more difficult to achieve. Now the board is set to vote Tuesday on changes to the way schools are graded, which could result in a full letter drop for many schools.

The Florida Board of Education plans to vote "yes" on new rules that many fear will lead to lower school grades. Not because the schools are performing worse, but because the standards will be different. It's very frustrating for teachers like Jennifer Mann. "What we are doing has not changed. What the school is doing has not changed, but just this formula has been changed," said Mann, who teaches at Breakfast Point Elementary. "Many schools will drop a letter grade or more just because of the changes they've implemented," said Bay County Superintendent Bill Husfelt.

Bay District School officials estimate every middle school will fall one grade or two, except for Mowat, Bay Haven and North Bay Haven. They expect the same fate for every elementary school except for Breakfast Point, Hiland Park, Northside, Patronis, Tyndall, and Bay Haven Elementary. Which they expect will keep their "A" status. The rules also include grading schools for developmentally and emotionally challenged students, schools that have never been graded before. "Margaret K Lewis, New Horizons, very special schools that take care of their students and love their students, but no one in their right mind would have those schools graded and compared to the other schools. It just should not happen."

The change would also call for mainstreaming the scores of developmentally disabled and English as a Second Language students. "Those students already face challenges on their own. To measure their progress and what teachers have done with them all year long on one day, one test, does a horrible disservice to them," said Mann.

In December the Board of Education voted in higher passing scores which the district says will lead to an increase in the number of students failing to pass the F-CAT. "The children are going to suffer because we are going to tell them "you were a good student and now you are not a good student, we are going to have to put you in remediation because you are not where you need to be," that is going to happen overnight before parents even know what is happening," said Husfelt. "We have no problem with raising standards. It's just that when you do that there are unintended consequences and the unintended consequences are what we want the parents to be alerted to," said Husfelt.

On March 1st the district will send home this letter which explains the changes and the implications:

In spring 2012, Florida public school students will be taking the new Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), commonly referred to as FCAT 2.0, which is a much more rigorous test with increased expectations across all grade levels. In addition, the State Board of Education (SBE) raised FCAT cut scores for each passing level (Level 1 - Level 5) in December 2011 to be applied in spring 2012 - thereby further raising the achievement bar. These decisions were supported by the Florida Department of Education regardless of the differing opinions expressed by committees comprised of education professionals across the state assigned to evaluate these changes.

While everyone agrees that increased accountability and high academic standards are certainly in the best interest of our students; the reality of these changes in terms of real life consequences for students needs to be recognized and understood.

The combination of a much more rigorous FCAT test, coupled with raising the threshold for receiving a passing score will result in a dip in student scores. There is great concern that many Florida students will not be successful on FCAT 2.0.

For example, students that have consistently scored Level 3 (passing rate) their entire school career could easily score below the passing level with the new standards. The most dramatic impact will likely be in grades 3, 4, and 10.

What does all this mean in terms of student performance on FCAT 2.0?
· There will be an increase in the number of students failing to pass FCAT 2.0
· Subsequently, there will be an increase in the number of students having to take remedial classes for the portions of FCAT 2.0 that they failed
o Secondary impact: the student's ability to take elective courses (i.e. band, art, drama, music, etc.) will likely be limited due to the addition of remedial courses
What does this means for schools/the school district?
§ SCHOOL GRADES WILL FALL SIGNIFICANTLY
§ Increased costs to school districts due to an increase in the number of remedial classes
§ Potential elimination of elective courses in order to accommodate an increase in remedial courses
What is truly important to remember is that lower FCAT test scores do not necessarily indicate that a student learned less this year than in prior years.

It does indicate the student has work to do to master the new curriculum well enough to successfully progress to the new higher levels of accountability as required by the state. As teachers and students spend more time working with the new and higher expectations placed upon them, it is expected that test scores will rebound, student knowledge will increase, and ultimately the student will be better prepared for life after high school, either in college or the workplace.

To that end, all of us - students, parents, teachers, principals, administrators, superintendents and our communities - must work together to continue to ensure the academic success of our students, which in turn directly correlates to the economic vitality of our communities.

Keeping you informed,
Bill Husfelt

We've also included a link to Gerard Robinson, the Commissioner of Education's e-mail if you'd like to leave a comment with him. Husfelt encourages parents to contact your lawmakers to give them your opinion.


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