Passing many of Florida’s crucial
exams may soon be more difficult, and the percentage of students failing likely could zoom upward, under a proposed new scoring system being considered.
The state’s new algebra exam for middle and high schoolers also would be graded by a tough standard that, if it had been in place this year, would have meant a failure rate of 45 percent.
The suggested changes mean more third graders could be held back, more students would require intensive reading and math lessons and more teenagers would struggle to meet Florida’s increasing high school graduation requirements.
The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, a series of exams in math, reading, science and writing, is used to help make promotion, course assignment and graduation decisions, as is the new algebra test.
FCAT scores also are used to assign A-to-F grades to public schools, so those grades could fall as well under the new standards. Teacher evaluations, which will soon also rely on FCAT data, eventually could be impacted, too.
The Florida Department of Education proposed the new scoring system because it has revised the FCAT and debuted an algebra end-of-course exam.
The State Board of Education has final say and could take up the new scoring plan at its December meeting. The changes would go into effect in 2012.
"It’s going to be much tougher," said Orange Superintendent Ron Blocker.
But if the state’s goal is to have "a standard in place that makes us competitive nationally and positions us even to be competitive globally," Blocker said, "then we need to shoot for those standards."
Blocker, among a dozen superintendents on a committee that helped review the new recommendations, said administrators wanted more consistent standards as the academic bar was raised. Historically, the percentage of youngsters passing FCAT in elementary school has been much higher than those passing in high school.
The new system would smooth out that problem, making the percentage of students passing similar from grade to grade.
Seminole Superintendent Bill Vogel, who was also on the committee, said the goal was to "strike the balance between what is reasonable and attainable and yet rigorous."
Both Block and Vogel said just how the changes would play out for students and schools — and how much angst they would create — won’t be clear until scores and school grades are released next year.
"We’ll have to wait and see," Vogel said.
Both the revised FCAT and the algebra test were given for the first time last spring. They are part of an effort to ramp up academics and demand more from Florida students. The state first adopted new academic standards, then redid its tests to judge whether students were meeting them.
State Board member John Padget said in an email that he wasn’t sure the proposed standards were strict enough.
"The present system is broken," he said.
Many elementary and middle schools earn As and Bs on the state report card but send students onto high school who struggle to pass FCAT reading, Padget said. And then many high school graduates end up in remedial courses in college.
He noted that the proposal –though tougher in the early grades – would mean more students would earn a grade-level score on the 10th-grade reading exam.
"I’m looking to raise standards at every grade level and reduce the excess math or reading remediation required in college for almost 70% of our high school graduates," he wrote.
The state education department is now taking public comment on the proposal, both online at and at three meetings, including one at Jones High in Orlando on Tuesday at 2 p.m.
State Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said the new scores "represent the next great step in our journey to create a model education system for our nation."
The FCAT third-grade reading exam could face the biggest changes. Students must get at least a 2 on the 5-level exam to be promoted to fourth grade, though there are exemptions to that law. Last year, 16 percent failed to hit that mark.
If the new scoring system were in place last year, the failure rate would have been 18 percent, meaning more than 36,400 third graders could face retention..
And the percentage of third graders earning grade-level scores would have dropped from 72 to 57 percent. The percentage of students doing well on the FCAT reading exam in fourth-to-seventh grades also would have fallen 10 or 11 percentage points.
But eighth-grade reading scores would have held steady and the percentage of ninth and 10th graders passing the reading test would have gone up.
The state’s new algebra exam, based on 2011 performance, would be a hard one to pass. This year, just 55 percent of the students who took the standardized math test would have passed. That means more than 94,000 students would have to retake the test.
Starting this school year, students must pass the algebra exam to earn a credit in algebra 1 — and they must pass algebra 1 to graduate from high school. They will have several more chances, if they do not pass it the first time.