Nearly half of Florida high schoolers failed the reading portion of the state's tougher new FCAT test this year, the Department of Education said Friday.
The results of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test show 50 percent of 10th-graders and 52 percent of 9th-graders were performing at or above grade level on the test.
That's down from 2011, when 60 percent of 10th-graders received passing scores. High schoolers must pass the 10th-grade exam to graduate, but can retake it if they fail.
In the writing test, 81 percent of students in 4th grade passed, while 78 percent in 8th grade and 84 percent in 10th grade passed.
Miami Central High School's turnaround from an F to a C school got President Obama's attention last March. But this year, 10th-graders at Central got among the lowest FCAT reading scores in the county, as 16 percent scored satisfactory and above. Sophomores at Booker T. Washington Senior High only did 1 percent better.
"This is a reflection of both an ongoing challenge, but also made much worse by a new exam that's much more rigorous with new standards without the appropriate time for teachers, students and parents alike," said Miami-Dade Superintendent of Schools Alberto Carvalho.
The test was changed to the FCAT 2.0 after it was made more difficult. Earlier this week, an emergency rule was enacted which lowered the passing grade on the written test.
The State Board of Education unanimously passed the rule Tuesday after preliminary results showed only about a third of students would pass this year.
"We are asking more from our students and teachers than we ever have, and I am proud of their hard work," Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said in a statement. "Florida’s higher standards help ensure students are learning what they are expected to know so that they are prepared for college, career, and life. As Florida transitions to higher standards and higher expectations, we can expect our assessment results to reflect those changes."
Central's low score was actually slightly better than last year. Meantime, 10th-graders at Miami Edison Senior High School went from 7 percent to 19 percent this year.
Two magnet schools in Dade, DASH AND MAST, had reading scores in the 80s and 90s.
In Broward County, Pompano Beach High School is among the highest-scoring schools with over 80 percent passing. Coconut Creek High School has some of the lowest scores. Only 24 percent of of freshmen did well in reading there.
Overall, 51 percent of 9th-graders and 49 percent of 10th-graders passed the reading FCAT in Broward. In Miami-Dade, 48 percent of 9th-graders and 46 percent of 10th-graders passed.
"We are somewhat relieved by the reading results. They still demonstrate a lot of work to be done," Carvalho said.
One big FCAT change this year is that scores for English-language learners were counted after only one year of instruction compared to two years in the past. Carvalho called the move by the State Board of Education "incredibly unfair."
"Schools like Central that have a large percentage of speakers of languages other than English, Spanish and in Central's case Haitian Creole are at a clear disadvantage because those students, up until now, their scores were not take into account until they had two years of language instruction," the superintendent said. "Now we're just one single year of langage instruction and you ask them to take a 10th-grade exam and demonstrate proficiency in reading and writing."
Carvalho says he is considering taking legal action to give such students additional time before their test scores count.