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Posted on Thu, May. 24, 2007
FCAT gain keeps 5-year trend alive in Dade
BY MATTHEW I. PINZUR, PETER BAILEY AND LAURA MORALES
Miami-Dade County students scored slightly higher again this year on the state's benchmark standardized test, continuing a trend that adds up to dramatic improvement over the last five years.
According to test results released Wednesday by the Florida Department of Education, more than half of Miami-Dade's students read at their grade level and 57 percent meet the same standard in math.

Five years ago, fewer than 40 percent met the reading proficiency standard, and 41 percent met the math one.

Such long-term trends are more meaningful than year-to-year comparisons, testing experts say, because they are less affected by hops and dips that randomly occur in large sets of data.

''I just feel so good and excited,'' Tashira Sheftall, 11, a fifth-grader at Bunche Park Elementary in Miami Gardens, said as her classmates screamed, hooted and pogoed about wildly when they heard about their school's success on the test.

''This is the consistent pattern that you want to see,'' Superintendent Rudy Crew said of the five-year positive trend. ``This is sustainable. This is exactly what you want.''

This biggest blips on this year's Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test results were among seventh-graders, who had eye-popping gains, and sixth-graders, with equally jarring declines.

The explanation dates back to 2003, when the state began requiring students who failed the reading test to repeat third grade. That created a fourth-grade class in 2004 that had left behind its lowest-performing students.

That group is now finishing seventh grade, and reading and math scores -- 59 and 55 percent proficient, respectively -- were six and seven percentage points ahead of last year's seventh-graders.

The class one year behind, which includes some of the poorer readers who had been retained a year, has always been weaker in comparison. This year, its reading and math proficiency rates were 55 and 44 percent, a decline of seven and five points, respectively, from 2006.

Educators expect that ''bubble'' to continue until the class of 2012 graduates.

Outside that bubble, the 2007 scores mirrored previous years'. Few groups' scores were more than one or two percentage points different from the year before.

Elementary-age students' scores were generally high -- about 64 percent performed at grade level or above on the math and reading tests. But older students continued to lag. In high school, only 33 percent of ninth-graders and 27 percent of 10-graders were proficient in reading but much better in math -- 51 percent for freshmen and 57 percent for sophomores.

Broward, too, has improved at almost every level since 2003. It has usually outperformed its more urban neighbor and settled into a pattern of slight annual changes, usually for the better.

There is no easy way to prove whether students are better at learning today than five years ago, or simply better at taking tests such as the FCAT. But in a state that continues to base much of its education infrastructure on those scores -- high-school graduation, teacher bonuses, school grades -- the overall gains are crucial.

Parents look at results when choosing between the district and its charter- and private-school competitors. Voters look at the results when electing School Board members. Lawmakers look at the results when weighing Miami-Dade's pleas for more money.

''Here's the return on your investment for the past few years,'' said Associate Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.

Even before they begin taking the exam in third grade, Florida students are injected with FCAT expectations.

When the results are good, as they were at Bunche Park, reactions tended toward euphoria. Principal Beryl James burst into tears Wednesday. ''It's been such a challenge,'' she said.

Her school showed gains across the spectrum, exceeding administrators' expectations for reading, math, writing and science.

For the first time, science scores will count toward school grades, which will be released next month. Unlike the math and reading exams, which students take every year from grades three through 10, the science test is given only in grades five, eight and 11.

Science scores increased statewide over 2006 results, though fewer than half the students scored at grade level. In Miami-Dade, 34 percent of fifth-graders scored at grade level or above, up from 29 percent last year. Scores for 11th- and eighth-graders increased from 32 percent last year to 34 and 36 percent, respectively.

''It was a lot of stress placed on everyone, but we asked the students to drive us forward and they did,'' said Miami-Dade district science supervisor Cyd Heyliger-Browne.

The School Improvement Zone, a Crew innovation that provides intensive-care academics for long-struggling campuses, continued to close its gap with the overall student population.

Reading gains at Zone middle schools and math gains for elementary and middle Zone students were particular standouts.

It was impossible to predict Wednesday whether those gains were sufficient to nudge the county's lowest-performing schools above an F.

But Wednesday's news was encouraging. Edison Senior High, which has received five F's in a row, improved in every test subject this year.

Crew has all but staked his superintendency -- and national reputation -- on pulling those schools out of the statistical cellar despite the challenges of immigration, language and poverty. He said Wednesday's results were further proof such success is attainable.

''This isn't something for privileged children,'' he said. ``This is something that can happen any place we choose to make it happen.''

Miami Herald staff writers Tania deLuzuriaga, Nirvi Shah and Hannah Sampson contributed to this report.
 

Night Phantom

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50% and 57% are nothing to be excited about.

I wonder the average scores on SATs are over the same span in the state.
 

Fishfan79

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they teach for the fcat not teaching for the future grade levels.
 

FutureGM

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The FCAT is a joke. Most of my teachers in HS were only preparing us for that easy test, and not really teaching anything we didn't already know.

It's not a good sign when Dade students are having trouble with that exam either...
 
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Except that there have been improvements in the average SAT scores county-wide in Dade since its implementation. Maybe that isn't enough evidence but the status quo was not getting anything done. Sure, theres a lot of work to be done, but if the FCAT is done away with there needs to be new innovative methods to improving education, not just a return to the laughing stock system of the pre-late 90s we had in this state.

Perhaps a different system of allocating funds based on performance of schools vs. past performances and such on regular exams. Grading teachers on class performances over periods of time. More funds for voucher programs.
I'm throwing suggestions, but I won't criticize a system without mentioning superior alternatives, and the pre-FCAT system was definitely not better.
 

bobbob1313

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The FCAT is a joke. For the kids who pass it easily, it's a waste of time to learn. And for the kids who need help, they are taught the test and nothing else.

And the whole giving extra money to schools that improve and not to ones that aren't improving is just ridiculous. Cypress Bay High School really needs more money while schools that consistently have lower scores definetly don't need funding.
 

furcalchick

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i don't know too much about public school in florida, but based on accounts, observation, and the news, it sounds like it was lower quality than california at least. i was breezing through some of the freshman chemistry concepts, in which most of the students from florida were just learning, as i already had some of it in high school. i think the fcat was part of the reason why this was happening. i think there's too much emphasis on the test, and made me think about perhaps not getting a temp teaching job next school year.
 

Flying_Mollusk

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The FCAT is a joke. For the kids who pass it easily, it's a waste of time to learn. And for the kids who need help, they are taught the test and nothing else.

And the whole giving extra money to schools that improve and not to ones that aren't improving is just ridiculous. Cypress Bay High School really needs more money while schools that consistently have lower scores definetly don't need funding.

My sentiments exactly. At least make the test dynamic so that schools have to teach students to grasp the concepts and not how to pass a test.

And what would it be like if the NBA, NFL, or MLB punished low market struggling teams by taking away draft picks and the large market successful teams got extra draft picks and extra money?

How does a school in the inner city that is operating with struggling resources, lower end teachers, and kids who are much more difficult to teach and more of the difficult kids, compete with a school in a wealthy neighborhood, with students who have great parents, where students get tutors when they struggle, and have amazing resources and top of the line teachers? It's like saying let's give the revenue sharing to the Yankees and take money away from the Drays.

I'm not specifically familiar with how Florida does it's thing, but this mentality that bad schools are bad because they can be bad is ridiculous.
 

MarlinFan10

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The FCAT is f***ing up public education badly. The school system is really shameful. All teachers care about is the damn FCAT and not helping their children learn. Not only that, but parents now really only care about their child passing the FCAT, which they should be, but it really makes me sick that they have to. Also, the style of teaching only the FCAT makes children dread learning and the end result is one f***ed education system with only a select few learning to their potential.
 
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The FCAT is a joke. For the kids who pass it easily, it's a waste of time to learn. And for the kids who need help, they are taught the test and nothing else.

And the whole giving extra money to schools that improve and not to ones that aren't improving is just ridiculous. Cypress Bay High School really needs more money while schools that consistently have lower scores definetly don't need funding.

My sentiments exactly. At least make the test dynamic so that schools have to teach students to grasp the concepts and not how to pass a test.

And what would it be like if the NBA, NFL, or MLB punished low market struggling teams by taking away draft picks and the large market successful teams got extra draft picks and extra money?

How does a school in the inner city that is operating with struggling resources, lower end teachers, and kids who are much more difficult to teach and more of the difficult kids, compete with a school in a wealthy neighborhood, with students who have great parents, where students get tutors when they struggle, and have amazing resources and top of the line teachers? It's like saying let's give the revenue sharing to the Yankees and take money away from the Drays.

I'm not specifically familiar with how Florida does it's thing, but this mentality that bad schools are bad because they can be bad is ridiculous.

Chewbacca, was the public school system down here better before? The answer is no.

I agree with you F_M, the test should be more dynamic. But the higher funding doesnt go to A schools, it goes to bad schools that have gotten better. If anything it provides an incentive for mediocrity aside from perfection. Then you see all these principals from the bad schools driving corvettes while the buildings are falling apart.
 

bobbob1313

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Chewbacca, was the public school system down here better before? The answer is no.

I agree with you F_M, the test should be more dynamic. But the higher funding doesnt go to A schools, it goes to bad schools that have gotten better. If anything it provides an incentive for mediocrity aside from perfection. Then you see all these principals from the bad schools driving corvettes while the buildings are falling apart.

But the school system hasn't improved. And we are just pouring money into it hoping it will, but it never will. We need to try something new. Just because it isn't worse than before doesn't mean we should keep doing it.

The higher funding does go to A schools that maintain their A's. It also goes to schools that improve from d-c, c-b, etc. And the money doesn't go to the students, the majority of it goes into teacher's pockets, which is why they teach to the test. Thats all they care about, and it is hurting the students. They need to make sure the money goes to resources that the school can use, because as it is, the money does not help the students.
 

Night Phantom

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If you want to fix the schools, stop poring money into random uselessness and change the way teachers are paid. Hold teachers accountable for whether or not they're good, and change the scale where they get paid on seniority. Furthermore, pay them more so talented people who would otherwise enter the profession don't go on to do other things.
 

CapeFish

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Schools are run by 1 person....the principal. The buck stops with them. They hire, they fire, and they make most school policy.

School Boards, State Boards, and Teachers' Unions only make boundaries for the principals to stay in...rest is their call.

Communities make schools and they must demand accountability from the ones who control the school.
 
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Chewbacca, was the public school system down here better before? The answer is no.

I agree with you F_M, the test should be more dynamic. But the higher funding doesnt go to A schools, it goes to bad schools that have gotten better. If anything it provides an incentive for mediocrity aside from perfection. Then you see all these principals from the bad schools driving corvettes while the buildings are falling apart.

But the school system hasn't improved. And we are just pouring money into it hoping it will, but it never will. We need to try something new. Just because it isn't worse than before doesn't mean we should keep doing it.

The higher funding does go to A schools that maintain their A's. It also goes to schools that improve from d-c, c-b, etc. And the money doesn't go to the students, the majority of it goes into teacher's pockets, which is why they teach to the test. Thats all they care about, and it is hurting the students. They need to make sure the money goes to resources that the school can use, because as it is, the money does not help the students.


The fact that principals mismanage funds has nothing to do with the FCAT, thats a seperate issue. And the truth is that SAT scores have been up since the FCAT started so it is better than before. The improvements just aren't enough to maintain the status quo. Whether its with or without the FCAT, the system needs to add accoutability measures, more funding oversight, and increase options for parents and students. Magnet programs are a good idea as are vouchers.
The argument I have against the teaching to the test argument is that, teaching to the test as opposed to what? The test should be changed to reflect what children should know at that grade level and then teaching to the test is ok.
Another problem is the U.S. puts a lot of emphasis on standardized testing in general which I have a problem with, but thats a stor yfor another day.
 

CTMarlinsfan

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that's why I went to private school...at least they don't teach you for a test...that's just dumb...


Someone I know had a book they give to the 5th graders "Preparing for the F-Cat" or something and it had a picture of cat on it...i said to her, that's shameful, you shouldn't be learning that.
 

furcalchick

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that's why I went to private school...at least they don't teach you for a test...that's just dumb...


Someone I know had a book they give to the 5th graders "Preparing for the F-Cat" or something and it had a picture of cat on it...i said to her, that's shameful, you shouldn't be learning that.

i agree. the fcat doesn't prove they know the subject, but know how to take the fcat, two different things. concept teaching is the way to go. and i know teachers in florida are probably punished for teaching concepts most likely.
 

louiecastillo1

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All I have to say is thank god I was able to take the HSCT in the last year they had
it.
 

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