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[Susan notes: This point is usually lost in the fog of rhetoric.]

Published in St. Petersburg Times

To the editor

A misuse of data

Re: FCAT scores soar higher this year, May 16.

The governor is comparing apples to oranges again. The "soaring" FCAT scores represent comparisons between two different groups of students. Even the data reported in the Times compares last year's third-graders with this year's third-graders, last year's fourth-graders with this year's fourth-graders, etc. A much more significant data comparison would be between last year's third-graders and this year's fourth-graders. Oh, and what about that thing called random variation? Do we even know if the differences reported between the 2002 and 2003 FCAT reading and math scores represents significant improvement? And let's remember that a single data point is no basis for making high-stakes decisions about anything. FCAT critics shouldn't back off. Not only is the test being misused, but so are the data from the test.

Rob McMahon, president, Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association

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