Education

FCAT Finally Expelled From Florida's Schools

By: Allison Nielsen | Posted: April 18, 2014 3:55 AM
Standardized test

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.

During its lengthy run, the test whipped students and school administrators into a frenzy.

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. 




Comments (5)

Pam
11:45AM MAY 30TH 2014
They say these tests are to evaluate the school and the teachers, but they are not just an evaluation of the quality of education being taught to our children; they are exit exams from specific grades or from high school. They also say the content is to make sure our children are ready for college. Has anyone ever been asked by a college or university if you passed the FCAT? The colleges or universities want to know your ACT or SAT scores not the scores on some state testing that has had consistency errors from day one. They couldn't even make up their minds on what the passing score should be. The biggest mistake they are making now is spending 220 MILLION on testing. Some company is profiting from this testing. The department of education Florida should put that money into a good school curriculum and teachers required more teaching education (ie New York teachers), so children get the quality of education they should have and not just slide through. If you need a evaluation exam, make it an evaluation of the schools and teachers and don't pass the buck on to the kids who have already done their work and passed their classes. If your curriculum is written for college prep and being executed properly, there should not be a need for an exit exam.
Don
11:48AM SEP 5TH 2014
I know that FCAT scores were included in transcripts sent to colleges for my 2 sons. As well as ACT scores and grades.
nick
12:02PM MAY 6TH 2014
Congrats, I'm a 33 year old teacher that is leaving the profession due to the emphasis on 'teaching the test.' Education has become an abhorrent profession with low pay and lower satisfaction. Enjoy the high turnover that's just going to get worse--NOBODY in the profession enjoys what they do anymore except for maybe 10% of the older generation that are retiring year-by-year now increasingly.
It Is Federal Takeover of Education PERIOD!
3:21PM APR 20TH 2014
“Yes, Common Core is a federal takeover of education!”

Activists in South Carolina voiced their opposition to the expansion of Common Core in their state. They believe that Common Core is another federal overreach that takes away yet another freedom in America.

There has been a growing battle in American over education for decades. The “right” has advocated school choice and parental involvement – like in charter schools – and educator accountability as solutions to the problem of diminishing standards. Meanwhile, the progressive “left” has promoted increased centralization, teachers unions and related policies.

Common Core is another step toward the centralization and complete takeover of education under the federal government. Education has always been controlled at the state level. Curricula, educational standards, and teacher accountability have all been regulated at the state level, and each state had its own institutions and structures to govern those regulations.

Common Core will eliminate all of that. The program is a set of academic regulations set by the federal government. Technically, states adopt the standards voluntarily, but financial incentives and changes to related policies – like SAT, ACT and GED tests – make it difficult for states to continue following their own programs. South Carolina opted into the program in 2010, but it won’t be fully implemented until the 2014-2015 school year. Concerned citizens are demanding their state withdraw immediately.

The first, most basic problem with Common Core is that it’s expensive. South Carolina, like many states, was motivated to implement it by the possibility of additional federal funds.
Philip Bowers is the 2012-2015 S.C. Speaker of the House’s Business Appointee, and was part of the Board of Education when Common Core was implemented.

Bowers told us, “Common Core came along around the same time as the Race to the Top and they dangled the money in front of the state and said ‘If you’ll adopt the Common Core, we’ll give you some money, or potentially give you some money.’ That changed our priorities …this is a federal overreach and I was concerned for many reason… I voted against it.”

Bowers listed some of the expenses of the program.

“Common Core tests are administered via computer, whereas South Carolina’s standardized tests are currently administered via paper and pencil. State schools currently lack the computers and bandwidth to administer the tests at one time. This will not only create the tremendous financial burden of adding many new computers to every school in the state, but before that happens, tests could be administered over the course of 12-20 weeks every year. This will not only create unequal situations for different students, it would also disrupt classroom time.

The bigger problem, though, is that Common Core is, indeed, a federal takeover of education. America is a country founded on the principle of separate states, and this has been very beneficial for the country.

States can learn from each other’s policies, what works, what doesn’t.

The people who implement policies remain more accountable, so the policies remain closer to the people. Perhaps most importantly, states can maintain cultural diversity and a sense of closeness to their unique roots.

All of these benefits will be lost with the Common Core system. The more standardized education is – particularly when it “teaches to a test” the way Common Core would encourage – the less intellectual diversity will exist. On a more personal level, as Bowers put it “why should we be common when every child is special?”

Bowers states that there is no evidence that Common Core standards will be higher. In fact, some of these standards have been very controversial. For instance, the Language Arts standards state that 70% of texts read by high school seniors (and 50% over the course of their educational careers) must be “informational texts” instead of classic literature. Not only would this fail to teach students basic literature and poetry analysis, it opens the doors for blatant propaganda.

These standards were largely written by special interest groups behind closed doors in Washington, D.C. These groups only spoke about the actual standards in vague terms, and gave minimal information before the decision was made to implement the program.

Governors had a two month window to adopt the policies, and those two months occurred while state legislatures were out of session. As previously referenced, this adoption was heavily incentivized using taxpayer money, but that wasn’t the only motive to adopt the policies. In fact, the head of the College Board, which administers college admissions tests as well as Advance Placement exams, was a key figure in the development of Common Core, and those tests will change to fit the standards.

This will not only force students at public schools in states which adopted Common Core to learn to those criteria, it will also force anyone who wants to go to college, whether they went to public, private or home school, in or out of a state which adopted the program to adhere to them. It’s not difficult to see how this will affect the intellectual landscape of the country and force unwilling people to alter their educational programs. This centralization occurs at a time when the U.S. is seeing more and more diversity in education, such as the rise of charter schools, it would stop that progress.

Another freighting aspect of Common Core is that it will involve gathering data from students and their families.

Recently international criminals hacked into South Carolina’s IRS records that resulted in over 3.6 million Social Security numbers being compromised. The idea of allowing the state to collect sensitive and personal information into a database is something South Carolinians vehemently opposes. This information will include religion, beliefs, income, voting status of their parents, competencies, biases, medical information, psychological information, and a history of school discipline. Few of these are related to education, and none should be tracked.

As Philip Bowers said “We changed simply because we thought we might get a little money from Race to the Top, and now we’ve started down this path and no one wants to stop and take a second look.”

We asked Sheri Few, President/CEO of South Carolina Parents Involved in Education if she thought that Common Core was indeed a takeover of education, and if so, what can other states do to oppose this federal program.

“Yes, it is a federal takeover of education!” Few said. “The Common Core testing consortia funded by the US Department of Education (by “shovel ready” stimulus money) are developing the assessments for Common Core, which will drive classroom instruction. We all know teachers are forced to teach to the test because assessments are intended to reflect their performance.

States were also coerced into committing to Common Core standards before they were even finished writing the standards with federal grant opportunities (also funded with stimulus money) and No Child Left Behind Waivers. Data mining is one of the greatest concerns along with the costs associate with the assessments. States would be wise to withdraw from the Smarter Balanced and PARCC testing consortium if they don’t want to incur huge expense and if they want to protect personal student level data. The consortia’s contract with the feds requires them to provide student level data to the federal government. States need to work with their legislatures (who were bypassed in the process of adopting CC) to repeal the adoption of the standards and to protect student data.”
Teachers Letter Explains the destruction of CC
7:26AM APR 18TH 2014
Teacher Resigns over Uncommon Common Core


Teacher Pauline Hawkins is resigning from Liberty High School in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Here’s her resignation letter:
Dear Administrators, Superintendent, et al.:
This is my official resignation letter from my English teaching position.
I’m sad to be leaving a place that has meant so much to me. This was my first teaching job. For eleven years I taught in these classrooms, I walked these halls, and I befriended colleagues, students, and parents alike. This school became part of my family, and I will be forever connected to this community for that reason.
I am grateful for having had the opportunity to serve my community as a teacher. I met the most incredible people here. I am forever changed by my brilliant and compassionate colleagues and the incredible students I’ve had the pleasure of teaching.
I know I have made a difference in the lives of my students, just as they have irrevocably changed mine. Teaching is the most rewarding job I have ever had. That is why I am sad to leave the profession I love.
Even though I am primarily leaving to be closer to my family, if my family were in Colorado, I would not be able to continue teaching here. As a newly single mom, I cannot live in this community on the salary I make as a teacher. With the effects of the pay freeze still lingering and Colorado having one of the lowest yearly teaching salaries in the nation, it has become financially impossible for me to teach in this state.
Along with the salary issue, ethically, I can no longer work in an educational system that is spiraling downwards while it purports to improve the education of our children.
I began my career just as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was gaining momentum. The difference between my students then and now is unmistakable. Regardless of grades or test scores, my students from five to eleven years ago still had a sense of pride in whom they were and a self-confidence in whom they would become someday. Sadly, that type of student is rare now. Every year I have seen a decline in student morale; every year I have more and more wounded students sitting in my classroom, more and more students participating in self-harm and bullying. These children are lost and in pain.
It is no coincidence that the students I have now coincide with the NCLB movement twelve years ago–and it’s only getting worse with the new legislation around Race to the Top.
I have sweet, incredible, intelligent children sitting in my classroom who are giving up on their lives already. They feel that they only have failure in their futures because they’ve been told they aren’t good enough by a standardized test; they’ve been told that they can’t be successful because they aren’t jumping through the right hoops on their educational paths. I have spent so much time trying to reverse those thoughts, trying to help them see that education is not punitive; education is the only way they can improve their lives. But the truth is, the current educational system is punishing them for their inadequacies, rather than helping them discover their unique talents; our educational system is failing our children because it is not meeting their needs.
I can no longer be a part of a system that continues to do the exact opposite of what I am supposed to do as a teacher–I am supposed to help them think for themselves, help them find solutions to problems, help them become productive members of society. Instead, the emphasis on Common Core Standards and high-stakes testing is creating a teach-to-the-test mentality for our teachers and stress and anxiety for our students. Students have increasingly become hesitant to think for themselves because they have been programmed to believe that there is one right answer that they may or may not have been given yet. That is what school has become: A place where teachers must give students “right” answers, so students can prove (on tests riddled with problems, by the way) that teachers have taught students what the standards have deemed to be a proper education.
As unique as my personal situation might be, I know I am not the only teacher feeling this way. Instead of weeding out the “bad” teachers, this evaluation system will continue to frustrate the teachers who are doing everything they can to ensure their students are graduating with the skills necessary to become civic minded individuals. We feel defeated and helpless: If we speak out, we are reprimanded for not being team players; if we do as we are told, we are supporting a broken system.
Since I’ve worked here, we have always asked the question of every situation: “Is this good for kids?” My answer to this new legislation is, “No. This is absolutely not good for kids.” I cannot stand by and watch this happen to our precious children–our future. The irony is I cannot fight for their rights while I am working in the system. Therefore, I will not apply for another teaching job anywhere in this country while our government continues to ruin public education. Instead, I will do my best to be an advocate for change. I will continue to fight for our children’s rights for a free and proper education because their very lives depend upon it.
My final plea as a district employee is that the principals and superintendent ask themselves the same questions I have asked myself: “Is this good for kids? Is the state money being spent wisely to keep and attract good teachers? Can the district do a better job of advocating for our children and become leaders in this educational system rather than followers?” With my resignation, I hope to inspire change in the district I have come to love. As Benjamin Franklin once said: “All mankind is divided into three classes: Those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move.” I want to be someone who moves and makes things happen. Which one do you want to be?

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