Florida’s science FCAT scores were released today. For those who don’t know, the FCAT is the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test given annually to all Florida public school children in grades 3 through 11. The FCAT is supposed to measure what students have learned about reading, writing, mathematics and science. The test results are a big deal, because each year all schools receive a letter grade based on these results. Of course, schools strive for As and Bs, but can really feel the heat from both the State and their local communities if they get Ds or Fs. Things get real bad if a school fails several years in a row, leaving the door open for the State to come in and take over the running of the school or shutting it down.
The science FCAT has been given to students in grades 5, 8 and 11 since 2003. For the first couple of years, the test was given to 10th graders, but in 2005 it was moved up to 11th grade. Since 2003, the science FCAT scores were no big deal since they didn’t count towards the schools’ letter grades. However, last year they did for the first time. And the poor results crashed schools’ letter grades.
For easy comprehension of the scores, the FCAT results are divided up into five categories. Students who score in levels 1 and 2 can be considered failing or real close to it. Level 1 means: “This student has little success” with the content. Level 2 means: “This student has limited success” with the content. Every student, parent and teacher hopes for level 3 and above. Essentially, level 3 means a student has some understanding of the material, but might not excel in the subject. A student at level 3 is “on grade level.” Levels 4 and 5 are hit by those students who really mastered the material and know what the heck they are talking about.
The Florida Department of Education is singing a sunny tune about how the vast majority of reading, math and science scores are up. Yes, the scores are up. But a closer look at the science scores shows that a simple rounded number or two could account for the minuscule rise. Have a look at this snapshot (pdf file). Note at the bottom of the page in fine print where is says “Percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding.”
Now compare 11th grade 2008 results with 2007 results. Level 1 is down one percent, Levels 2 and 3 are unchanged, Level 4 is up one percent and Level 5 is unchanged. Overall passing the test at Level 3 or higher popped up one percent from 2007 to 2008. Maybe. If the number wasn’t rounded. The percentage of those 11th graders at Levels 1 and 2, below grade level, is about 62 percent. More than half of these soon-to-be graduates simply don’t understand science, according to this test.
Fifth graders who passed (Levels 3 and above) also went up one percent. Those in eighth grade did better, climbing two percent.
The jumps in performance from 2006 to 2007 were much better. Progress seems to have slowed now, though.
Last year when FCAT results came out I talked about how the public was told that science scores in previous years suffered because so much focus was on reading, writing and math. The scores would improve now that science counts towards school grades. Doesn’t look to me like that happened. I didn’t buy it then, and I’m not buying it now. Adding to the problems I commented on in that post back then is the new requirement coming up this next year to have 30 consecutive minutes of physical activity in the elementary schools. I’m fine with physical activity, but so much of the elementary school day is taken up with mandatory instruction that this physical activity straw will break the schools’ backs. I’ve heard teachers lament that in order to add in this new 30 minutes, something else has to go. There are only so many minutes in a school day. What has to go to make room? Science and social studies.