Inside Rick Scott’s FCAT Spin Machine


Brandon Larrabee gives a fascinating look into how Florida Governor Rick Scott and his staff sought to establish the narrative of the release of FCAT data. From the News Service of Florida, Larrabee writes:

The test crisis began when passing scores on the writing test plummeted from 81 percent to 27 percent for fourth graders and showed similar drop in eighth and 10th grades. The Florida Board of Education eventually met in emergency session to lower the passing grade from 4.0 to 3.0 while they develop a longer-term answer.

 In the meantime, Scott’s office has been closely involved in helping to craft the public-relations effort in the wake of the renewed focus by the governor on public education, including a successful push for $1 billion in new state education funding during the last legislative session. The $1 billion in new funding partially restores the $1.3 billion that the Legislature and Scott cut in the previous legislative session.

 At one point, the governor’s communications team and Carrie O’Rourke, a deputy chief of staff who handles education issues, made extensive comments and suggestions about a press release announcing reading and math scores.

 “MORE IMPORTANTLY what is the takeaway you want the media to have?” wrote Scott communications director Brian Burgess in one email in response to a draft of the press release. “From reading this, it appears you just want the media to know that FCAT results have been released. But why squander an opportunity to point out that we are raising standards? I don’t see that until the second paragraph.”

 By then, the writing scores were sparking questions about the move to boost performance and how it might affect schools. Scott’s office approved a draft of the press release announcing the change in cut scores for the writing test.

Scott’s handlers obviously knew they were in damage control mode and that they badly wanted the Florida media to buy their spin. Larrabee has more about their plan.

The agency had also sent a plan to Scott’s office for handling the FCAT results, a three-page document entitled “Higher Standards: The Right Thing to Do.”

 The purpose of the plan is “(t)o win support and understanding for higher standards in our state as we move through a volatile period of rolling out the results of new, more rigorous assessments (FCAT 2.0) and higher achievement levels (cut scores),” DOE said in one email.

The department envisioned a “Full-Court Press,” including everything from efforts to get letters to the editor written by organizations allied with the governor and DOE, like the Florida Chamber and the Council of 100, to having Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson record on-hold phone messages. The plan also suggested a hash-tag on Twitter.

Perhaps the Full-Court Press is underway with this morning with this Florida Times-Union opinion piece which strangely attempts to inoculate FCAT and policy-makers from criticism. Letters from the usual suspects will be seen by a skeptical electorate as another transparent attempt to prop up a system which is collapsing on multiple fronts. Hash-tags on Twitter? Please.

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About Bob Sikes

A long time ago and a planet far, far away I was an athletic trainer for the New York Mets. I was blessed to be part of the now legendary 1986 World Series Championship. My late father told me that I'd one day be thankful I had that degree in teaching from Florida State University. He was right and I became twice blesses to become a teacher in the late 1990's. After dabbling with writing about the Mets and then politics, I settled on education.
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