That’s the word an official of Florida’s Department of Education used to characterize what the state’s Board of Education did last week when FCAT writing exam scores for 4th, 8th and 10 graders were released and did a free-fall. Only about a third got the minimum passing grade.
I think what he meant was the board “dumbed down” the score so the results weren’t as dismal. That’s certainly what most of the nation believed when the “re-calibration” was announced.
Never underestimate academia’s penchant for snatching words like “re-calibrate” to describe what happened. Obfuscation of the language is what they do best.
Baker County students, incidentally, were right there with counterparts in Florida’s remaining 66 counties. The “passing” percentage here went up when the numbers were “re-calibrated.”
So now, what they’re telling us is the reading portion of FCAT was made more difficult, but made so too swiftly. What tripped up students was the new emphasis on punctuation, spelling and grammar.
How did we get to a point where those key elements of essay writing, or any writing, were diminished? How could it be that punctuation, spelling and grammar were ever removed from the writing skills toolbox?
Who do we see about this?
Do we assume now that either the writing test will be made easier in coming years, or will the DOE in its wisdom keep down the mark for a passing grade? What a choice.
The news article in this edition reviewing the FCAT debacle quotes Susan Voorhees, the district’s testing czar, chiding state legislators “who are not educators” for equating more tests to better return on education dollars.
The result, she declared, was decreased instructional time in classrooms and greater emphasis of test preparation.
Ms. Voorhees, no doubt an able administrator, is right — legislators aren’t educators. Got forbid they were. But they are the conduits for tax money pouring into Florida’s public schools, and they’re generally worried we’re not getting our money’s worth.
Legislators react to complaints by business and industry that our high school graduates aren’t proficient in rudimentary skills, and that’s what gave birth to standardized testing — with all its faults.
An acquaintance with a small business concern remarked several years ago that he doesn’t hire any high school graduates who leave school with less than high honor grades. He has little patience with “grade inflation” rampant in the public school system (think “re-calibrating”) and bluntly asserts that workers with little to offer besides “self-esteem” have no place on his payroll.
He’s not alone.
We can assume the education establishment is now back at the drawing board, tinkering with next year’s FCAT writing tests. It has a dilemma: do we keep the “passing score” low or gradually increase the intensity of what we require during those 45 minutes allotted to essay writing?
Do us a favor. We’ll do our best to forget how “punctuation, spelling and grammar” somehow got pushed out of basic writing tests if the Department of Education in Tallahassee will push its thousands of employees to somehow put them back in.