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Debate over proposed FSA cut scores hinges on definitions


How best to set proposed "cut scores," or passing rates, for the new Florida Standards Assessments continues to divide state Board of Education members and state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

The board plans to set the cut scores in January and continues to debate whether the scores should be set higher than what Stewart recommends -- which would make it more difficult for students to pass the statewide assessment.

During the board's monthly meeting Friday, held via conference call, Vice-Chairman John Padget continued to push for stricter scores that are more in line with the National Assessments of Educational Progress, a nationwide assessment given to only a sampling of students in every state.

Padget called it "unconscionable" that considerably more students would be considered "proficient" under the proposed FSA cut scores than they are under the NAEP.

Officials at the Department of Education have cautioned that no two standardized tests are the same, whether in subject matter or grading.

Rather, Stewart -- who stands by her recommended cut scores -- said the state needs to do a better job of explaining what the cut scores actually mean to parents and students.

The passing level for Florida standardized tests -- considered a Level 3 out of five levels -- is, by state law, defined as "satisfactory." Only the Legislature could change that.

Stewart said she is "comfortable" equating a Level 4 score to "college ready" or "proficient," and that should be conveyed, too.

"Our responsibility is a clear communication that Level 3 is satisfactory and what Levels 4 and 5 can indicate to a parents," she said.

While some board members refrained from commenting during the board discussion Friday, others appear ready to stand with Stewart on the issue, as are superintendents statewide.

"I’m encouraged by the fact the superintendents have put their support behind commissioner’s recommendation," Chairwoman Marva Johnson said. "Even as we consider cut scores ... we need to be clear what we’re communicating to parents and what those numbers mean."

Tom Grady, the board's newest member who was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott in October, agreed, saying he doesn't think the NAEP is a "gold standard" that the FSA should be compared with.

"There’s a law that says satisfactory is what we except," he said. "It seems to me that ends the conversation as far as our board is concerned, because we need to follow the law."