Archive for the 'FCAT' Category

Eight years later: Are Florida’s students still losing out on a solid science education?

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

stand-up-for-science-180In June 2009, a full eight years ago, I wrote a column published in the Gainesville Sun with the pointed headline: Is science education important to Florida?

Is science education important to Florida? That is a relevant question to ask after analyzing the 2009 science FCAT results released last week.

There were minimal gains of one or two percent in the lower grades, but a disappointing 63 percent of 11th graders failed, scoring below a level three. There are bright spots in a few counties, but overall we are either mired in the tar pit of an inadequate testing system for science, or our students have a shockingly poor understanding of basic science concepts. Quite likely, both explanations are equally valid.

There have been a few changes in the testing system since then. The FCAT has been re-branded as the Statewide Science Assessment. The 11th grade FCAT was eliminated, replaced with the Biology End of Course exam. But some things remain the same. Students are still doing poorly. I wrote a column that was published today in the Orlando Sentinel. I would have loved to give it the same headline as the 2009 piece, but I have no control over what the editors decide. The online version is Spur a love for science that spans a lifetime. The print version is different: Give science education attention it deserves for productive future. Nonetheless, my message was essentially the same as eight years ago.

Unfortunately, I worry that Florida’s decision makers and leaders are not up to the task of preparing our students for the science-infused future they face. The Florida Department of Education recently released the results of several standardized exams our students took this past year. The FDOE’s press release highlighted praiseworthy improvements in English Language Arts and mathematics assessments.

But what about science? Here’s what the press release had to say: “Science performance remained consistent.” That’s it.

Unlike the other tested subjects, there wasn’t anything positive to say about the science assessments. Consistent is a horrible word to use in association with the results. Students in fifth and eighth grades took tests the FDOE calls Statewide Science Assessments. Not once in the past six years have more than half of all eighth-grade test takers passed the exam.

To make that loud and clear: More than half the students taking that exam failed every year since at least 2012. This year’s results showed that 52 percent failed. In fifth grade, 49 percent failed the exam, which is the same as the previous year. That’s stagnant, not consistent.

I posted links to today’s story on social media and I’ve had responses asking, “What can I do about this?” My answer is simple: be loud. My newspaper columns are obviously not loud enough. I’m just one person spitting in the wind. Remember that awesome March for Science? (See my blog post Marching for Science across Florida.) If all those marchers — and I mean every single one — would copy both of my columns and send them (email, postal mail, hand deliver) to decision makers (elected officials, appointed officials) with an attached note bold and highlighted “What are YOU going to do about this?” then maybe they would realize something is wrong.

Be loud.

Look up the results for your local schools. If the results are good — fortunately, there are some really good ones out there — then take the time and effort to let your school board members, superintendent, principals and teachers know. Give them the praise they deserve. But if your local schools didn’t perform so hot, then be loud. Ask them what’s going on and demand an answer. Don’t let them ignore you.

Be loud.

Spread the word. There were a lot of March for Science participants. Hopefully, they’ll get this message and they’ll all speak up. But there are plenty of other folks out there who value science education but aren’t aware of Florida’s plight. Tell them. Prod them into action. No one is going to take us seriously if we’re not loud. That means we need a lot of people willing to be vocal. Find those people and recruit them.

Be loud.

Did you know that the Florida Department of Education had planned on updating our state science standards in 2016? (See our old post about this: Science Standards revision schedule and you can view the standards here.) The process was even started in 2015 when the FDOE recruited people to be on the standards review committee. We know that because some of our members and associates were asked to participate. But then the process was abruptly halted and abandoned a few months after it started. There is no official explanation for why. (We have unconfirmed information that it was because politicians didn’t want evolution and climate change in the news during election season.) It’s now June 2017 and the process hasn’t restarted. Florida Citizens for Science president Jonathan Smith hounded the FDOE about this and finally got a response. The standards will not be revised in the next two years at least and perhaps longer.

I think you know what to do now.

Be loud.

Science assessment scores “remained consistent”? Seriously?

Friday, June 9th, 2017

The results are in for the many mandatory statewide tests Florida’s students take every year. Headlines in newspapers across the state emphasized language arts and math scores, which overall improved over last year’s results. That’s good news.

But science? Here’s what the Florida Department of Education’s press release announcing all of the results says about science:

Compared to 2016, a higher percentage of Florida’s students passed the statewide, standardized assessments in Civics and U.S. History while Science performance remained consistent.

f-school-letter-gradeThat’s all, folks. The press release has a lot of analysis and stats about all of the other exams but a mere “remained consistent” statement about science. Of course, an official press release is going to put as positive a spin as possible on bad news. You have to expect that. But not one single newspaper or other media outlet that I could find said much more about science in their stories than the press release did. Unfortunately, that same pattern of ignoring science results has been going on for years. Let’s look at the numbers.

Biology End of Course
Statewide Percentage Passing (Level 3 or Above)
Spring 2016-2017: 63
Spring 2015-2016: 64
Spring 2014-2015: 65
Spring 2013-2014: 68
Spring 2012-2013: 67
Spring 2011-2012: 59

5th Grade Science Statewide Science Assessment (formally know as the science FCAT)
Statewide Percentage Passing (Level 3 or Above)
2017: 51
2016: 51
2015: 53
2014: 54
2013: 53
2012: 52

8th Grade Science Statewide Science Assessment (formally know as the science FCAT)
Statewide Percentage Passing (Level 3 or Above)
2017: 48*
2016: 48*
2015: 48
2014: 49
2013: 47
2012: 47

In 8th grade, 48 percent of students taking the exam passed it. That means a full 52 percent — yes, more than half of all test takers — did not pass it this year. And that is the same result as the previous year. In 5th grade it’s not any better: 51 percent passed, meaning that nearly half did not pass. And the Biology end of course results have been slipping downward a bit year after year after year.

No, I do not believe the science scores “remained consistent”! They remained dismal. They’re stagnant or falling. And everyone needs to stop sweeping that dirt under the rug.

Does anyone care about Florida science education?

(*FDOE started a year or two ago combining the 8th grade science assessment results with the results of 8th graders who instead took the Biology EOC. The combined statistic reported on most of the FDOE’s documents is 50 percent passing in 8th grade. But the pure Statewide Science Assessment results show a passing percentage of only 48. I highlighted this when I first noticed it in last year’s assessment results post.)

Statewide science scores … anyone out there actually care?

Friday, June 12th, 2015

Another year, another dismal performance on statewide science assessments here in Florida. Depending on grade level, students either took the science FCAT or Biology End of Course exam. Here’s the results compared to previous years’:

Biology End of Course
State Percentage Passing (Level 3 or Above)
Spring 2014-2015: 65
Spring 2013-2014: 68
Spring 2012-2013: 67
Spring 2011-2012: 59

5th Grade Science FCAT
State Percentage Passing (Level 3 or Above)
2015: 53
2014: 54
2013: 53
2012: 52

8th Grade Science FCAT
State Percentage Passing (Level 3 or Above)
2015: 48
2014: 49
2013: 47
2012: 47

Take a look at those 8th grade numbers. They mean that for four years running more than half of the students failed the exam every year. Take a look even further back in this blog’s FCAT post archives and you’ll see that the situation has been the same since at least 2008. And you know what? No one will pay any attention. Newspaper stories will barely mention the stagnant science scores and won’t mention how long the trend has lasted. We definitely won’t hear a peep about this from politicians. Anyone care to bet on it?

Science FCAT 2012, nothing new

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

FCAT science. Grades 5 and 8 (no more high school science FCATs with the advent of the Biology end of course exams): stagnant (pdf document, scroll all the way down to page 55 … yes, page 55, heck, even the press release buried the science results.).

Not much I can add to my comments last year and the year before.

Sorry, but I just don’t feel the motivation to say the same doggone thing over and over again other that to say that about half of Florida students don’t grasp basic science, and it may not be all their fault due to the way the science FCAT is designed. Move along. Nothing more to see here.

Science FCAT 2011

Monday, June 6th, 2011

Results for Florida’s annual science exams taken by 3rd, 8th, and 11th graders were released today. The good news? Scores overall improved since last year. The bad news? The rise in scores is small, and 50 percent of our state’s students aren’t proficient in science. I’m tired of being a broken record here, so I’ll just link to my coverage of previous years’ scores (2008, 2009, 2010). It’s all disappointingly the same old story.

Today’s write up in the Orlando Sentinel opens with a focus on science, which is refreshing.

Florida students did better this year on the FCAT science exams, though fewer than half of those tested scored at grade level, results released this morning showed.

“I’m very encouraged by the continued progress we are seeing in science, but the overall performance of our students is still far too low,” said Education Commissioner Eric Smith.

Students in grades 5, 8 and 11 take the FCAT science exam. This year, 51 percent of fifth graders scored at grade level — earning a 3 or better on the five-level test — while 46 percent of eighth graders and 40 percent of 11th graders did as well.

The science scores were the highest since that FCAT exam was first given in 2003, increasing two to three percentage points at each grade level from last year.

The St. Petersburg Times’ story talks about science, too:

All three science FCATs were also used for the last time. In the future, the state will rely on science end-of-course exams in high school. It will roll out FCAT 2.0 versions of the fifth- and eighth-grade science tests next year.

Statewide, students showed improvement on all three science tests, but in no grade did more than 51 percent of students score at grade level or above.

“I’m very encouraged by the continued progress we are seeing in science, but the overall performance of our students is still far too low,” Smith said in a written statement. “Important changes have recently been made to accelerate this progress, including increased graduation requirements that include critical science courses, our next generation curriculum standards that hone in on core science concepts and our Race to the Top win that has given us additional resources to concentrate on this vital subject area.”

Lawmaker wants to dump 11th grade science FCAT

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

Today, House Bill 543, “Educational Assessment”, was filed by Representative Debbie Mayfield (R). The bill text indicates that Mayfield would like to see a major change to the science FCAT.

Notwithstanding s. 1008.22, Florida Statutes, or any other provision of the law to the contrary, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in science administered to students in grade 11 shall be discontinued at the end of the 2008-2009 school year. Beginning with the 2009-2010 school year, the science assessment administered at the high school level shall be one or more end-of-course examinations. The Commissioner of Education shall select one or more nationally developed comprehensive assessments for use as end-of-course examinations. An end-of-course examination must be rigorous and standardized, approved by the State Board of Education, and administered statewide. The content knowledge and skills assessed by an end-of-course examination must be aligned to the core curricular content established in the Sunshine State Standards.

I don’t know what Mayfield’s reason for the bill is. However, it seems to make sense. Keep in mind that science FCATs carry no repercussions for students who fail it, but do affect the schools’ grades. So, it would make sense that there would be a desire to do away with the stress. Kids have been bribed by schools to take and pass this test. See a previous post about this here.

Ipods, prom tickets, limo rides — the prizes offered at American one morning last week are meant to motivate 11th-graders into taking and doing well on the upcoming FCAT science exam. While the scores won’t affect their state graduation requirements, they will count, for the first time, toward school grades.

Now some South Florida educators find themselves trying to entice 16-year-olds — even if it borders on a bit of bribery. At Michael Krop Senior High, students who score Level 3 or higher on the the science FCAT will get to sport shorts to class.

”There are a lot of kids who don’t care because they know it doesn’t matter,” said Clifton Forbes, a junior at American.

That attitude is what concerns officials most.

What’s your take? Good idea or bad?

Science FCAT “Lessons Learned”

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

The Department of Education announced today that they released a publication entitled “FCAT Science Lessons Learned: 2003–2006 Data Analyses and Instructional Implications” (pdf is here). This document was created by a Task Force that analyzed the data supplied by science FCAT scores from 2003 to 2006. The Task Force identified trends in the data and proposed some “implications” of what the findings mean for the classroom. As I thumbed through the 139-page document, I saw a common theme running through the implications.

Physical and Chemical Sciences
Grade 5, page 52
The task force recommends that instruction should include teacher-demonstrated laboratory activities (labs), as well as student-designed labs. Students should have opportunities to apply, analyze, and explain the concepts of energy, force, and motion. […] Students should move beyond knowing definitions into practical applications of the concepts to include hands-on experiences, connections to their real-life experiences, and manipulation of variables in experiments.

Grade 8, page 59
The task force recommends that instruction should include opportunities for students to investigate science concepts using a variety of laboratory activities. Instruction should provide the opportunity for students to connect concepts to real-world applications (e.g., objects sink or float according to density relative to a given medium).

Grade 11, page 67
The task force recommends that students should have the opportunity to compare and contrast, interpret, analyze, and explain chemical and physical concepts during laboratory activities and classroom discussions.

Earth and Space Sciences
Grade 8, page 77
Student should conduct laboratory activities that focus on the processes that shape the Earth (e.g., experiments with soil that demonstrate weathering and erosion).

Grade 11, page 83
The task force recommends that students should have practice explaining earth and space concepts using words and labeled diagrams. Laboratory activities can be used to model and demonstrate relationships such as plate interactions, gravity and tides, planetary motion, and climate and weather patterns.

Scientific Thinking
Grade 5, page 105
Along with this, instruction should move beyond just observations and demonstrations, and into hands-on opportunities for students to analyze (i.e., synthesize, compare/contrast, draw inferences, determine causes and effects, average, classify, categorize), draw appropriate conclusions, and apply concepts.

Grade 8, page 111
The task force recommends more inquiry-based activities followed by class discussions and written lab reports. Students should be given the opportunity to design and conduct experiments to test hypotheses (e.g., science fairs).

Grade 11, page 118
The Lessons Learned task force recommends that students practice designing experiments and using the scientific method throughout the science course. Teachers should incorporate the scientific method through more inquiry-based activities.

Conclusion, page 120
Instruction should integrate the use of the scientific process or nature of science (Strand H) throughout the other reporting clusters. Students should have the opportunity to conduct hands-on experiments in all areas of science, with analysis and reflection to emphasize the concepts and cause-and-effect relationships.

Are you seeing what I’m seeing? The Task Force is recommending more labs and other hands-on work. For you teachers out there reading this, what do you think about that? Is more lab time needed? If so, can it be done?

And as an aside, I noticed this tidbit:

Life and Environmental Sciences
Grade 11, page 97
Students who are unsuccessful have the greatest difficulty with:
• explaining the processes and results of mutations and natural selection;
• predicting the impact of stress on a population (e.g., carrying capacity, limiting factors); and
• explaining the principles of ecological succession (see Sample Item 26).

More about the 2008 science FCAT

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

I’ve received a few e-mails in response to my earlier post about 2008 science FCAT results. One person suggested that we take a look at those counties with school boards that passed formal resolutions against the teaching of evolution. Below is each of those county’s 2008 Level 3 and above (on grade level and better) percentages per grade, with the 2007 results in paranthesises for comparison. This is by no means an attempt at a detailed analysis. The student populations vary from county to county quite a bit. And I’m sure there are other factors to consider.

Some counties look fine. Clay, Nassau, St. Johns counties are kicking butt. But there are some eye-popping bad things going on, too. What is the deal with Hamilton county? They were awful last year and did even worse this year. Madison county doesn’t look much better. The performance of Taylor and Washington 5th graders plummeted. Both 11th and 5th graders in Jackson county are hurting.

11th: 38(37), 8th: 40(38), 5th: 43(42)

11th: 32(38), 8th: 39(38), 5th: 34(37)

11th: 38(40), 8th: 44(42), 5th: 44(44)

11th: 43(41), 8th: 45(44), 5th: 55(51)

11th: 10(11), 8th: 19(28), 5th: 26(29)

11th: 38(33), 8th: 37(30), 5th: 42(31)

11th: 29(35), 8th: 37(33), 5th: 37(42)

11th: 30(27), 8th: 29(30), 5th: 36(37)

11th: 20(26), 8th: 20(14), 5th: 23(23)

11th: 35(37), 8th: 45(42), 5th: 50(51)

11th: 32(30), 8th: 30(31), 5th: 35(34)

St. Johns:
11th: 54(56), 8th: 55(58), 5th: 55(58)

11th: 29(25), 8th: 33(37), 5th: 26(48)

11th: 37(38), 8th: 32(36), 5th: 27(40)

Another person e-mailed me to point out that science scores aren’t going to make many leaps forward unless the same effort that was pumped into reading education in the past is pumped into science education now. Last year, the Miami Herald’s columnist Fred Grimm wrote about how the science FCAT sank oodles of schools’ grades. Gerry Meisels, University of South Florida professor of chemistry and director of the Coalition for Science Literacy, was featured in that column as a driving force behind getting science FCATs to matter. Besides Meisels’ Coalition, there is also the Florida Center for Research on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (FCR-STEM) led by Nobel Prize in Chemistry winner Dr. Harold Kroto, a professor in the FSU Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. There is also Florida PROMiSE, and, of course, we here at Florida Citizens for Science. So, there is no shortage of organizations and people interested in making science education in Florida a priority. Unfortunately, it takes more than that. It takes money. It takes politicians focsing attention on the problems. Combine money woes and politicians in bad economic times and you get … nothing.

What are some problems? The e-mailer told me: “Of course, the difficulty of improving science education is compounded by the fact that while nearly all teachers can read, an alarmingly large number of science teachers do not have a deep understanding of their subjects.” Not only do we need to educate the students, but we also need to educate the teachers.