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Pinellas and Florida see little improvement on FCAT retakes

CLEARWATER - As students across Pinellas County prepare for high school graduation ceremonies, hundreds of others found out last week that they won’t be receiving their diplomas. The Florida Department of Education released results from the 12th-grade FCAT Retake Tests Thursday for high school seniors who had yet to pass tests in reading and math required for graduation. Scores for the tests, which students initially take in 10th grade, were up slightly from last year in Pinellas County but remained relatively flat statewide. The passing rate has always been low. Statewide, only 17 percent of 23,182 students passed the retake of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test’s reading portion, while 21 percent of 8,143 students passed the math portion of the test. In Pinellas, 19 percent of the 781 that took the reading test passed, up from 18 percent last year, and 21 percent of the 216 that took the math test passed, up from 19 percent last year.
Students who don’t pass the FCAT retakes will not be eligible to receive their high school diplomas and instead will be given certificates of completion. Improving student’s test performance on the retakes has always been a topic of discussion in the school district, said School Board member Linda Lerner. This year’s results don’t show any new problems, but they don’t show improvement either, she said. Pinellas County Schools officials plan to bolster their technical training centers to help students not destined for college. The school district has 16 career academies that allow students to graduate with industry certifications in fields ranging from engineering to culinary arts by the time they complete high school. First-year Superintendent Michael Grego wants to create more career programs in every high school and middle school and has already begun pulling in extra grant money and reworking the budget to make that happen. “We have career training for all kinds of students, from students that are struggling to those that perform very well academically,” Lerner said. “Data shows that when students are in a career technical program they generally do better then other students with similar backgrounds or scores; so adding more career programs could be a solution.” The state could release more FCAT scores as early as Wednesday. The first scores to be released will be writing scores for fourth-, eighth- and 10th-graders. Scores plummeted last year after the state introduced new requirements for the FCAT writing test that were stricter on grammar, spelling and logical arguments. In response, the state decreased the satisfactory score that schools are graded on from a 3.5 to a 3.0 to help cushion the impact. The highest possible score is a six. This year, the tougher standards still stand, and schools will once again be graded by the number of students that receive a 3.5 or higher. To offset the stricter requirements, students this year were able to work on their essays for an hour instead of the usual 45 minutes. Third-graders must pass the reading and math portions of the FCAT to be promoted to fourth grade. Sophomores who fail the reading and math tests can retake the tests four times before graduation – every semester in their junior and senior years.

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