Jump to Navigation
Topical Breezes
Following the Currents that Guide Florida's Future
How effectively does FCAT assess education in the Sunshine State?
Joe Saunders
Since its start, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test has been a lightning rod for controversy. But criticism intensified this month, after writing scores were released showing just more than a quarter of Florida students posted passing grades -- forcing another change in passing standards. So, how effective is the FCAT in assessing public education?
Kathleen Oropeza
Co-Founder, Fund Education Now

Everyone knows high-stakes poker is dangerous. Gamblers lose their homes and cars in the blink of an eye to satisfy a bad bet. It’s a serious crime to use a child as collateral in a wager. Yet politicians use Florida’s 2.74 million public school children like a stack of living poker chips in the most punitive high-stakes testing game the nation has ever known.

This month’s FCAT Writes scoring debacle forced Florida’s hand. Once the cards were on the table, everyone saw the harried DOE staffers and confused Board of Education members struggling to explain how 81 percent of all students passing could be reduced to 27 percent passing in a single year. In a rare moment of clarity, the public witnessed blatant data manipulation as Commissioner Robinson and the Board of Education made the self-preserving move on an open phone call to alter the FCAT Writes passing score and magically move the grades around for a more pleasing outcome.

The die is cast. Doubt has set in. No parent will ever accept that their child can go from being a good writer to a bad writer and back again in 72 hours. People are waking up to the realization that there is very little proof of the authenticity of these high-stakes tests.

Why should any parent or educator allow a single one test/one day high-stakes test thrust a child into a cruel cycle of retention and failure, regardless of GPA or 180 days of school work? Why should we allow the state to bet school grades, funding, teacher evaluations, pay increases and property values on the performance of Florida’s children?
Politicians use the high-stakes FCAT gamble to force children to take the unwitting lead in justifying the billions of taxpayer dollars they spend on no-bid Pearson testing services. Winners deliver the grades to save themselves, their schools and their teachers. Losers see their hopes and dreams instantly diminished. Retention for an 8-year-old destroys self esteem and decreases his chances of earning a high school diploma by 50 percent. How is this acceptable?

This week, 18 percent or just over 36,000 third-graders will likely be retained for scoring a 1. That’s over 2,000 new classes of repeating thirrd-graders. There were almost 53,000 third-graders who scored a 2. The state mandates intensive remediation for these children and the loss of specials like music and art. Cash-strapped districts face providing almost 3,000 new unfunded remediation classes for these children.

Fourteen years of unproven, expensive “reforms” have not produced the rumored “Florida Miracle.”

Constant legislative changes mean that ninth, 10th, 11th, and 12th graders will each graduate under different standards. While cutting $4 billion from classrooms in three years, Florida politicians wasted billions of taxpayer dollars on the testing industry re-purposing a failed product.

It’s time for parents and educators to stop politicians from gambling with our children’s future. It’s time to end this dangerous high-stakes testing game. It’s time to renew the promise of high-quality learning and embrace examinations based on teacher-driven classroom content, that encourages critical thought and measures a level of mastery that cannot ever be “bubbled in.”

All children deserve to leave third grade with a bounce in their step, a thirst for knowledge and a hopeful vision of his or her future. We must give this back to them.

Kathleen Oropeza is co-founder of FundEducationNow.org, a non-partisan Florida-based education advocacy group working with concerned citizens/voters who demand that every child’s constitutional right to a high-quality public education be fulfilled as stated in Article IX, section 1 of the Florida Constitution.

Patricia Levesque
Executive Director, Foundation for Florida's Future

Students entering the workforce today are facing world very different from those even a decade ago. As the world grows increasingly competitive, our threshold for success changes as well. Florida measures academic achievement, asking students to show what they know, because we want them to succeed.

The FCAT, Florida's current, annual evaluation tool, recently raised achievement levels for reading and math for the first time in 10 years. The exam is designed by standards aligned with real-world expectations and is an education-based tool reviewed by committees of educators and other experts -- more than 300 Florida educators serve on these committees annually. Over the years, some things have changed about the FCAT, but many things have not. FCAT 2.0, which came out in 2010, was the first iterating change to the test since its inception in 1998 under Governor Chiles.

As Florida has raised the bar over the years, history shows there is an initial dip in scores with such a change -- this is not a sign that our schools are failing. It is a sign that we are moving to new standards, and we expect gains to follow in the next two or three years. We are "raising the floor." New standards set an achievable level for students, and it is important that we set that expectation now to better prepare students for the higher expectations coming in two years.

In 2009, the Sunshine State joined 45 other states to develop a set of national Common Core standards, described as "fewer, higher, and clearer."

These new standards and accompanying end-of-course exams will take effect in 2014-15, replacing the FCAT as we know it. Previous standards of student achievement are no longer aligned with real world expectations, and we want to send our students out into the world equipped for success.

Standardized testing is an essential process in assessing the progress of our education system. Like an annual doctor's visit, testing helps identify areas of concern so action can be taken. Testing is not teaching, and alone it will not improve education. What it will do is help teachers, parents and school leaders know which students are struggling, so they can provide immediate support and assistance.

Florida students currently lead the national average. While there is room to improve, what is most impressive is how far we have come - in just five years, Florida has gone from 31st out of 50 states to 11th highest in achievement rankings. That turnaround is due to the proactive steps and innovative reforms implemented over the years. The threshold at which we measure success has everything to do with our children's future and their ability to reach their full potential, and standardized testing is a critical tool that informs the learning process.

Patricia Levesque is the executive director for the Foundation for Florida's Future.


Comment on this Roundtable Using Facebook

by Dr. Radut.