Statement from Commissioner Robinson on FCAT Writing

Yesterday’s vote by the State Board of Education to recalibrate the school grading scale of the FCAT Writing test was done in response to a tougher grading system that appropriately expects our students to understand proper punctuation, spelling and grammar. The Board acted after it became clear that students were posting significantly lower scores under newer, tougher writing standards. 

 We are asking more from our students and teachers than we ever have.  I believe it is appropriate to expect that our students know how to spell and how to properly punctuate a sentence.  Before this year, those basics were not given enough attention, nor did we give enough attention to communicating these basic expectations to our teachers.  I support the Board’s decision to recalibrate the school grading scale while keeping the writing standards high.

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7 thoughts on “Statement from Commissioner Robinson on FCAT Writing

  1. I have been teaching writing in Florida public schools with great success for 22 years. In that time, we have made great strides in helping students to understand the attributes of solid expository and persuasive writing. It has been challenging but fortunately steady progress has been made. We all agree that our students must use proper punctuation and spelling, etc. However, we also know that when we allow students to enter tenth grade without primary/middle school skills, it is unrealistic to expect them to read a prompt, plan, support and completely edit a 45 minute essay after one semester. We currently seem fixed on end of course tests. When will we have the courage to insist on entry level skills for middle and high school? Should high school educators teach basic spelling? Why are we having to spend inordinate amounts of time remediating sentence structure and punctuation? Are you aware that ninth grade math teachers have students who do not know the times tables? Fractions, decimals, algebra-all these are next to impossible without such fundamental skills. Our schools must commit to serious early intervention so our students can truly move towards more rigorous standards in all academic areas in secondary school. The problem is not whether a 3.0 or 4.0 is the passing grade on FlWrites. It is whether or not we will address the root issues once and for all.

  2. “Before this year, those basics were not given enough attention, nor did we give enough attention to communicating these basic expectations to our teachers.”

    Don’t put any of this shame or embarrassment on teachers. We’ve been questioning the results of this test, the state’s policies, and the watered-down grading system for years, not to mention the direction of education. The teachers have had as much input in the conversation about testing and assessment as a mute has had the opportunity to speak at a spoken word event.

    The state can own this fiasco; you earned it!

  3. As an English educator, I believe that the real issue is not the test or its calibration. THe real issue is what is happening in the classroom. Becasue of so much standardized testing not enough time is spent teaching the fundamental skills of communication and coupling that instruction with critical thinking skills. I teach on the college level and have done so for over 20 years. THe gap between high school English and writing classes and what the University English teacher expects is very wide and varied. We have to find a way to come closer together. Stnadadized testing is almost non-existent for the college student so the skills expectations in the college classroom go beyond what the high school teacher is required and limited in doing.

    We have to do more for and with each other to prepare students for what all us believe they need. We, that is educators, are not doing a very good job preparing students for the future. THey have to take our places and we are dropping the ball. Testing is not the answer. “Real” teaching is.

  4. “I believe it is appropriate to expect that our students know how to spell and how to properly punctuate a sentence. Before this year, those basics were not given enough attention, nor did we give enough attention to communicating these basic expectations to our teachers. ”

    I don’t believe that the problem is that teachers didn’t receive proper communication on what they should teach. I think that mentality is exactly the problem in and of itself. Why have we gotten to a point in education where teachers should have to be communicated to that they should be teaching punctuation and basic grammar? I would say that the reason is because teachers teach to the test. I would say that the gap was CREATED by this test; by teachers being made to teach to this test; by principals losing funding for their schools because of this test. There is so much pressure for these students, teachers, and schools to have high test scores, that my childs education is now based around FCAT. If a good score for this test (previous to this year) was to be acheived by neglecting punctuation for whatever other “quality” was deemed to grant a high score, then that is what schools are forced to focus on. That is why there is a lack in basic grammar; because this test has forced it on, ultimately the students. My 4th grader gets science once a week…. how is that ok? Why is my child being taught to pass a test? I’m not discounting the fact that standardized testing is important. I believe it is very important to have an idea of what levels students are at. But shouldn’t the test have been testing basic grammar this whole time? Shouldn’t educators be given the opportunity to teach children to the best of their ability and not to the best of what the state see’s fit “this year”?? This test is just one peice of a broken system, and at the bottom of the broken system are our children. Please empower our children with the tools and education that will see them through life, not through FCAT. FCAT obviously is not the answer, not matter how you grade it.

  5. “I believe it is appropriate to expect that our students know how to spell and how to properly punctuate a sentence. Before this year, those basics were not given enough attention, nor did we give enough attention to communicating these basic expectations to our teachers.”

    While I agree with your statement, the fact remains the FCAT Writing test provides a limited amount of time to respond to a specific writing prompt. You are asking students to provide a final edited copy, yet only allowing them time to produce a draft. Spelling and punctuation are generally corrected in edits after a passage is written. These students are under pressure to provide a complete answer and include supporting details. If you feel compelled to test students on grammar and punctuation, then provide them a passage with spelling and grammar mistakes to correct. (of course that would only increase the amount of testing and isn’t realistic) Don’t hold them so tightly accountable for these mistakes on a timed writing test. Do you want content, or do you want perfection? Some students aren’t capable of providing both on the first attempt. If you insist on holding students accountable for spelling and grammar during the FCAT Writing test, then give them more time and only do so at a higher grade level. By then, maybe the majority of these students will have the ability and maturity to write and edit their response in the allotted period of time.

    Finally, consider that some districts no longer require schools to teach basic spelling for a regular grade. If a teacher tests for spelling, it’s a minor grade as a part of language arts. The class has been eliminated as an elementary school subject so teachers have more time to prepare for standardized testing, and because technology provides the students with spell check. It might help if everyone were on the same page with the requirements.

  6. There were two mistakes made followed by a smart move by the State School Board:
    1. The previous version of the FCAT Writing seemed to assess writing skills with NO weight given to proper grammar and spelling. I wonder frankly, what it did assess. But teachers for years were lead away from teaching the important foundation skills of writing properly including spelling and grammar.
    2. The shift to evaluating grammar and spelling as part of the test was not adequately communicated to the teachers and curriculum people so the students were not prepared and they flunked en masse.
    The state school board acted appropriately by putting a band-aid over these two huge goofs. I agree with and applaud their quick action.

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