FCAT a test for pupils, schools
February 7, 2005
Special-needs students' scores to be factored in
By Kim McCoy Vann--Tallahassee DEMOCRAT STAFF WRITER
Test scores of students who require special instruction could impact school
grades this year as the state raises the bar for accountability.
The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores of students with disabilities
and students who have difficulty understanding the English language will be
calculated toward school grades.
While they'll take the writing portion of the FCAT on Tuesday and Wednesday,
only their scores from the math and reading portions, which will be given in
March, will count toward school grades. The state will be looking at whether
they've made learning gains, a year's worth of progress.
The purpose of including these students' scores is to ensure that all students
get the attention they need and make progress, according to the Department of
"Through high standards and accountability, Florida continues to see rising
student achievement in public schools and some of the most dramatic progress in
the nation," DOE spokesman MacKay Jimeson said. About 24 percent of Leon
County's nearly 32,000 K-12 students are in Exceptional Student Education, which
offers special instruction for gifted and disabled students. Of those, nearly 19
percent have disabilities. Their disabilities range from emotional to learning
to visual impairment.
About 1 percent of the student population is classified as English Language
Learners, students working to master the English language.
Last year, 36 percent of Leon County's ELL students scored at or above grade
level in reading, and 59 percent scored at grade level or above in math. Of
disabled students, 38 percent scored at or above grade level in reading and 39
percent scored at or above grade level in math.
While these students are required to take the FCAT, special testing
accommodations and modifications can be made when necessary. Challenges these
students face mean their scores could make a dent on school grades.
"These students need additional support," said Iris Wilson, an assistant
superintendent for Leon County Schools. "They may not perform as well as
students who don't need additional support so it will have an impact."
Still, Wilson says these students have been properly prepared.
"As far as what we do for these students, it really won't mean anything new for
us," she said. "We always make provisions and implement strategies to meet
Gilchrist Elementary, for example, pulls ELL students out of class for part of
the day to work in small groups on reading, writing and language, Principal
Scotty Crowe said. About 5 percent of the school's 865 students aren't
proficient in English, but they tend to do OK on standardized tests, he said.
"(These) students have been very successful," Crowe said. "There's not a
learning gap or learning disability. It's just a language hurdle. Once we get
that refined, they do very well."
Gilchrist is one of four schools in the district that have programs targeted for
students whose primary language isn't English. Qualified students who live
outside these schools' zones may attend these schools for the programs.
Special testing accommodations for ELL students include extended time, using a
word-for-word translation dictionary that doesn't include a definition, testing
in a separate setting, and testing on a more flexible schedule, said Barbara
Stansell, the district's developer for ELL, foreign language, art and music.
ESE students' individual needs are addressed through education plans created for
them, Wilson said. A district ESE teacher also goes into classrooms to work with
students when additional support is needed.
Special testing accommodations for them include: changes in the way the student
responds, such as signed or verbal response; changes in scheduling, such as
allowing frequent breaks; and changes in the way test items are presented, such
Crowe said all students, regardless of their needs, are given a chance to learn
"All of our kids are always a challenge ... We've always done everything we can
do," he said.