The state Board of Education has approved an emergency rule, lowing the passing grade for the FCAT writing test, after early reports of low scores.
Preliminary results showed that only 27 percent of fourth-graders received a passing score on the writing test this year, compared to 81 percent last year. Among eighth-graders, 33 percent got a passing score, compared to 82 percent last year. About 38 percent of 10th-graders passed, which was down from 80 percent last year.
The final results are not tallied for individual districts in South Florida for the writing test.
School officials attributed the low scores not to a lack of student preparation but to the state's changing of the grading standards and that the teachers weren't informed.
"They are preparing for one thing and then they are blindsided by something else, and that's not fair to the student, the teaching staff, the school itself," said parent Erin Beason.
"We are all pretty shocked and distressed over this news that we just learned about, but it's not a surprise to us," said Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.
"I think raising this bar really just stresses our students, our schools and our teachers to aim for something higher. Again, we've got to translate that, so there hasn't been a huge drop in student performance, so let's be clear about that. What has changed is the way the test results are actually calibrated," Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said.
Carvalho said he knew there were repercussions when the state changed the guidelines after the school year had started.
Runcie said the changes were implemented too quickly, without giving time for the districts, the teachers and the students to make the transition.
The outcry after the early scores were released forced the state Tuesday to roll the grading standards back to previous levels.
"This is not about giving a free pass to students. It's recognizing that necessary conversation and communication with districts and students, teachers and parents did not take place," Carvalho said.
"We have students that are doing very well. They continue to do well, and what kind of message does this actually send to them?" Runcie sad.
Education commissioners said the bar on FCAT testing will be raised. The state now has to ensure that it tells the teachers what the students will be tested on.
"It makes me feel uncomfortable because, to me, that doesn't have the child's best interest at heart," Beason said.
Many wonder what this will mean for the results of the reading, math and science tests, which have not been released yet.