FCAT Finally Expelled From Florida's Schools
Around the State
Parting is such sweet sorrow -- sort of -- as many Florida students took the FCAT for the last time this week, waving goodbye to the standardized test and marking an end to its 16-year legacy in the Sunshine State.
The FCAT has seen a variety of changes during its lifetime -- 10 education commissioners, five governors and a host of changes to the test itself.
Originated in the summer of 1995, the FCAT was designed to measure academic achievement across the Sunshine State. Schools were incentivized to take the test so they could have more autonomy on their funding.
In 1999, just a year after its first administration, Florida began giving out "A"-"F" grades to schools based on their performance on the FCAT.
If a school improved a letter grade or maintained an "A" grade, the state would give it extra money. Schools that didn’t perform well faced the possibility of losing funding. Students who didn’t perform well could be held back a grade.
The stakes were higher. The pressure was greater.
The test itself also prompted changes to Florida’s school grading system throughout the years.
After a dramatic drop in FCAT writing scores in 2012, the State Board of Education altered Florida’s grading formula to assess schools on the percentage of students whose essays earned a 3 or better. In 2011, the formula last year graded schools on the percentage that scored at least a 4.
With the changes and increased pressure to succeed came growing criticism and controversy over the FCAT.
Many across the state, including teachers and parents, expressed concerns that the test was becoming too heavily emphasized and that teachers had become test-obsessed, ultimately resulting in only teaching students enough to make sure they passed the FCAT.
“[The FCAT] was designed to be a diagnostic tool that could help teachers, administrators and parents understand where they needed to focus attention on particular students,” said Florida Education Association spokesman Mark Pudlow. “What it morphed into was something that became the all-encompassing arbiter of public education in Florida.”
While the test originated with good intentions, Pudlow said the FCAT was quickly spread too thin and ended up measuring too much in Florida’s education system.
“Something that was designed to be a diagnostic tool is being used for just about everything but a diagnostic tool,” he said, noting school grades, teacher evaluations and school funding are all reliant on FCAT performance.
But supporters of the test say it’s been a good tool to measure Florida’s progress throughout the years. Cheryl Etters, Press Secretary for the Florida Department of Education, explained Florida's made leaps and bounds since the FCAT was introduced.
"Since 1998, Florida students have made impressive academic progress, both in the Sunshine State and nationally," she told Sunshine State News. "In fact, Education Week recently ranked Florida fifth in the nation for the overall quality of its education system and Florida fourth graders continue to outpace the national average in reading. We’re proud of the accomplishments of our students and thankful for the hard work of our educators ensure students are prepared for college, a career and life."
Although Florida is parting ways with the FCAT, it’ll be saying hello to a new test to take the FCAT’s place. Last month, Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart announced the American Institutes for Research had won the $220 million contract to administer the test to replace the FCAT.
"I am confident that this new assessment is the best decision for Florida students," said Stewart. "The assessment will help us keep all students on their path to be college and career ready."
The contents of the new, Common Core-aligned test haven’t been revealed, but critics of the FCAT say even though the test is going kaput, its replacement is still going to face the same bumps in the road.
“The [new test] is going to contain the same kind of problems that we have with the FCAT. We’re still continuing the same regimen ... we’re still going to be giving school grades,” said Mark Pudlow. “It’s kind of a perversion of education. The FCAT [leaving] and the new test coming doesn’t change the fact that it’s being misused in Florida and in most places in the country.”
FCAT testing ends May 2.
Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at Allison@sunshinestatenews.com or follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen.