After conceding that poor communication with teachers could have contributed to an unprecedented drop in writing scores statewide, the Florida state Board of Education voted to lower the passing mark for the test.
But Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson defended the decision against critics who said it was a quick fix for bad test results. He said changing from a 4 to a 3 (out of 6) on the test simply "corrected the process."
"The results still stand," he said.
Just 27 percent of fourth-graders statewide earned a 4 or better on the writing FCAT, a steep decline from last year's 81 percent. Eighth- and 10th-graders had similar drops.
The news sparked widespread concern and a dramatic response, with more than 800 parents, teachers and school officials dialing into an emergency conference call held Tuesday by the state board. An earlier estimate of participants was 500.
During more than an hour of public comment, parents and teachers criticized the amount of testing that occurs in Florida, the effect test results can have on students and how prepared teachers were for changes to this year's writing test.
Deborah Van Pelt, a writing resource teacher at Leto High School in Hillsborough who wasn't on the call, said the decline in writing scores wasn't a surprise. But no one expected such a huge decrease, she said.
"Nobody knew how to anticipate the scoring. We knew there were tougher standards but we didn't know just how much," she said.
Switching to a 3 puts scores on par with last year's results. Results for schools and districts could be released by the end of the week, state officials said.