Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Diploma Standards Go Higher Bush, Cabinet Decide Passing FCAT Scores

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Diploma Standards Go Higher Bush, Cabinet Decide Passing FCAT Scores

Article excerpt

Byline: Jim Saunders, Times-Union staff writer

TALLAHASSEE -- For Florida high school students who took the 10th-grade FCAT exam this spring, they are numbers to celebrate or rue: 287 and 295.

After months of discussion and a last-minute dispute, Gov. Jeb Bush and the Florida Cabinet yesterday set passing scores for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test that will help determine whether students graduate from high school.

The initial scores -- 287 on the reading portion of the test and 295 on the math portion -- are part of a push to stiffen standards in Florida's public schools.

But more immediately, they mean that thousands of students throughout the state will be forced to retake the FCAT because they did not do well enough on tests given in March. Nearly a third of 10th-graders did not meet the passing score in reading, while 25 percent failed in math.

Bush said he thinks the state is moving in the "right direction" despite the high levels of failure.

"It's a test that measures about a ninth-grade level aptitude, and I think our expectations should be higher for our students," Bush said.

Yesterday's decision caps a long-planned shift toward using the FCAT to replace the easier High School Competency Test in determining whether students are eligible to graduate. Tenth-grade students who took the test in March will be the first group judged only by the FCAT.

Meanwhile, 10th-grade students who take the test in March 2002 will face slightly tougher standards. The passing scores will increase to 300 in reading and math as state education officials try to gradually increase the graduation requirements.

The FCAT is graded on a scale of 100 to 500, with 500 being the highest score. Students who failed parts of the test in March will be able to retake it five times during their junior and senior years.

Tim Ballentine, general director of research, assessment and evaluation for Duval County's schools, said officials do not know yet how many Jacksonville students will have to retake the exam.

Similarly, Jim Welu, director of student services and testing in St. …

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