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Probe targets Pinellas school’s FCAT scores

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— Pinellas County school officials have been ordered to investigate Bay Point Elementary School’s FCAT exams for possible cheating.

Several fourth-grade students at the St. Petersburg math, science, technology and Spanish language magnet school bubbled in the same wrong answers on their FCAT math test — similarities so improbable that the odds of them occurring naturally in “ideal testing conditions” are less than 1 in 1 quadrillion, according to a letter to Superintendent Michael Grego June 24 from Mike Blackburn, inspector general for the Florida Department of Education.

Until the school district gets to the bottom of the similarities, the state will not assign Bay Point a school grade.

The school is one of 40 in the state flagged for further investigation. Pinellas officials must launch their own investigation into the improbable similarities, and return the findings to the state before Bay Point will be assigned a school grade. They must interview all administrators and coordinators involved with the flagged tests, as well as at least 10 students in the testing group, and conduct “further analysis” of the test results, administration and document handling.

The internal investigation has yet to find signs of cheating, according to a statement from school district’s spokeswoman Donna Winchester. Beyond the statement, school district officials declined to answer questions about the inquiry on Thursday. The statement said the analysis should be completed within a month.

Felita Grant, principal of Bay Point Elementary, was unavailable for an interview Thursday.

Of the 107 fourth-grade students who took the math FCAT exam, only 55 earned a passing score. That is lower than the 59 percent who passed last school year. The school earned a C grade from the state for 2013 and saw relatively flat FCAT scores across the board.

The DOE has delayed releasing a school grade for Bay Point until the investigation into the school’s test administration procedures is completed. When the state released school grades July 11, Bay Point officials sent a robocall to parents saying the school’s grade was being withheld due to “inconsistencies” with the test data and assured them that they would work with the DOE to “sort this out.”

For now, the school has an “I” grade for “incomplete.” A second robocall was sent to families Thursday.

“It’s important for you to know that there is no evidence of mismanagement on the part of our students, teachers or administrators,” the robocall said.

Once an investigation is complete, Grego can petition the state to release a school grade or “school improvement score” for Bay Point.

“These statistical analyses are used to further investigations, and the results should not be interpreted as accusatory or indicative of malicious intent by the school or the county,” Blackburn’s letter said.

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