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June 15, 2007

Jennifer Fennell
(850) 245-0413

Statement By:

Education Commissioner Jeanine Blomberg

Regarding Summary of the Second FCAT External Advisory Committee Meeting

On Wednesday, we conducted our second Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) External Advisory Committee meeting in Tampa. The meeting was both productive and insightful. It provided the Department with specific direction as we work to address issues related to the 2006 third-grade FCAT reading results.

Comments and discussion from participants were both candid and supportive, clearly demonstrating the commitment of the group to meeting the challenges that lay ahead. By working collaboratively with education stakeholders around the state, including school district superintendents, testing experts, education association representatives and parents, I believe we will arrive at an approach that will be in the best interest of all those who are a part of Florida’s public education system.

Anomalies in last year’s third-grade FCAT reading results impact the Department’s ability to calculate school grades, in particular the student learning gains component. One of the primary goals of Wednesday’s meeting was to gather recommendations on how the Department should proceed with the calculation of school grades, which typically are released during the middle of June. Since we will not be rescoring last year’s third-grade reading results until an independent, expert review of our conclusions has been performed, it was important for us to develop alternative options for calculating school grades and present those options to the advisory committee. The group consensus centered on the option of calculating 2007 school grades excluding last year’s third-grade reading results with provisions that will safeguard schools from being disadvantaged by this exclusion. This option will be presented to the State Board of Education next week for their review and approval.

The group also supported a recommendation to the State Board of Education for a one-year suspension of the school grades component requiring at least half of a school’s lowest-performing students – those in the bottom 25 percent – to make learning gains. This proposed change would need to be approved by the State Board of Education next week and would only impact the 2007 school grades calculation.

However, this temporary suspension, or any future, long-term changes, should in no way be viewed as a lowering of standards. Currently, the performance of a school’s lowest 25 percent of students accounts for a quarter of a school’s grade. The performance of these students is and will continue to be a vital part of the school grades calculation. Ultimately, we will bring before the State Board of Education a recommendation for a new approach to this component of school grades that will ensure schools focus their efforts on their struggling students, are recognized for outstanding progress and held accountable through a method that is fair and reasonable.

Further discussion revolved around the effects last year’s third-grade FCAT reading results would have on calculating the Adequate Yearly Progress requirement of the No Child Left Behind Act. While several options were discussed, to which the advisory committee responded positively, no decisions can be made until the Department presents these options to the U. S. Department of Education and receives guidance from the federal government.

Additionally, we discussed the subject of teacher performance pay and tools the Department has pledged to provide school districts to assist in the implementation of performance pay. Districts have flexibility in how they have decided to put performance pay for teachers into practice; however, some districts requested student learning gains data from the Department to aide them in this implementation. The Department remains committed to providing school districts with the promised technical help and assistance they requested. We will make data reflecting student learning gains available to those districts that wish to use it in their performance pay plans.

Finally, we asked the group to continue discussion on the formation of an independent, expert review team to examine our findings and provide their own analysis of the results. We presented a list of potential experts to the group along with several possible scenarios on how the team could be formed. After a detailed discussion, it was decided that a smaller subgroup of the committee, comprised of data and testing experts and led by Brevard Public Schools Superintendent Richard DiPatri, would be formed to study the list and make recommendations to the rest of the advisory committee.

The FCAT is an important part of Florida’s education system and I remain committed to keeping this review process open and transparent. With the continued assistance of the FCAT External Advisory Committee and by establishing an annual, independent review of all future FCAT results, I believe we can only strengthen our nationally-recognized assessment system and inspire confidence in a tool that ensures our students are learning.