FCAT was born in 1995 in the humid June of a Tallahassee summer.
The Florida Commission on Education Reform and Accountability under Gov. Lawton Chiles gave birth to the test. It was part of a series of recommendations that were meant to give local districts more control and a better sense of how their schools were doing.
“At some point we may look fondly at the FCAT and wish we had it back,” says Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association — the umbrella organization for Florida’s teachers unions.
Eventually, Ford and the FEA would become outspoken rivals of FCAT, but the relationship didn’t sour immediately.
“It gave me information as a classroom teacher,” recalls Ford. “Unfortunately it was used as a political football to be the decision-maker for every decision that anybody wanted to tie to a test.”
It’s report card day at Miami Carol City Senior High, and sophomore Mack Godbee is reviewing his grades with his mentor, Natasha Santana-Viera.
The first quarter on Godbee’s report card is littered with Ds and Fs. This quarter, there are more Cs and Bs. He’s got an A in English.
“Congratulations on that,” says Santana-Viera. “When you need help, do you know where to go?”
“Straight to y’all,” says Godbee.
Lots of teachers talk to their students about their report cards. But this conversation is the result of a school initiative to monitor student data—looking for dropout risk before the obvious signs that a student is struggling. It’s part of a national program called Diplomas Now, which operates in several schools in Florida.
Talking to Godbee about his report card and his goals for the next quarter is just one piece of a strategic plan to make sure he stays in school.
Florida lawmakers are currently considering a proposed bill that would, among other things, create similar early warning systems in middle schools to flag students who are at risk of dropping out.
Schools are also likely to receive more money for maintenance after several years with almost nothing in the state budget to fix roofs, replace equipment and take care of other long-term repairs. The House budget includes $50 million for district school maintenance, while the Senate includes $40 million.
Chief Ian Moffett of Miami-Dade County Public Schools supports the state's new standards.
Florida’s Common Core standards have a new group of supporters: law enforcement.
The national anti-crime group Fight Crime: Invest in Kids released a position paper in favor of Florida’s new standards for English language arts and math. The group argues that assessments and higher standards can prevent crime.
Here’s the paper’s summary of the connection:
“Florida’s law enforcement leaders see the Florida Standards as integral to the effort to ensure that all students are college- and career- ready, and essential if we are going to successfully prevent future crime. What works to help all our young people be employable and succeed will also work to bring down crime. That is why we in law enforcement support the Florida Standards and aligned assessments.”
You can hear more from the organization and law enforcement here:
The College Board says the average at public four-year colleges and universities increased by 27 percent beyond the rate of inflation over the five years from the 2008-09 academic year to 2013-14. After adjusting for inflation, the cost of tuition more than tripled between 1973 and 2013.
That reality has been forcing more and more students to take on staggering debts. Among all students who graduated from four-year colleges in 2012, seven in 10 left with debt.
And that debt load is heavy — an average of , according to the Institute for College Access and Success. Just 20 years ago, fewer than half of college students graduated with debt, and the amount was less than $10,000 on average.
A Florida lawmaker has introduced a bill which would make college tuition free, but students would repay the cost over time.
A Florida lawmaker has proposed allowing students to attend college tuition-free, and then repay the cost with a percentage of their salary after graduating.
The proposal has been nicknamed “Pay It Forward” tuition because students making their payments keep tuition free for future generations of college students. Students might pay their Alma mater between 2 percent and 6 percent of their annual salary for as long as 25 years, depending on the terms of the program.
The idea was first proposed in Oregon, which is creating a pilot program for lawmakers to consider. In Florida, Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, introduced SB 738, which would launch a pilot program to create a Pay It Forward program.
Monroe Middle School teacher Dawn Norris hears a difference in her language arts classes since she starting using Common Core standards two years ago. It’s how the 13-year teacher knows the new standards are working.
Middle schools across Florida will begin using the new math and language arts standards when classes start this fall. But most middle schools in the Tampa area, where Monroe is located, are already using Common Core.
John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida
Monroe Middle School teacher Dawn Norris talks to her students about how to write an essay about fairy tales. Norris has been teaching based on the Common Core standards for two years. Since making the switch, she says her students have taken more control of the lessons.
Common Core has been fully adopted by 45 states. But the standards have been criticized for their quality, for reducing local control over classroom content and for continuing emphasis on student test results to determine whether teachers and schools are successful.
“What I’ve noticed in my classes now is they’re loud. And that’s OK,” Norris said. “Where in the old days it was, no, you want that silent classroom, but the more they talk, they’re all on task. They’re all working on that same common goal.”
Common Core protestors at February's State Board of Education Meeting in Orlando. They aren't giving up, but lawmakers say the conversation about Common Core is moving on.
Sondra Hulette and her granddaughter joined dozens of anti-Common Core protestors as they circled a fountain outside the Orange County school district offices last month.
Inside the building, the State Board of Education was about to rename Common Core as “The Florida Standards.” But outside, Hulette and others chanted “Stop Common Core!” “Keep education local!” and “Follow the money!”
Common Core are math and language arts standards adopted by Florida and 44 other states. They outline what students should know at the end of each grade.
But Hulette and many others oppose the standards because they are concerned about losing local control over classroom decisions, cost and other factors.
Hulette’s granddaughter is homeschooled, but she worries college placement exams are being written to the standards. And that would force parents of homeschooled students to address the standards or possibly leave their kids unprepared for the exams.
“I don’t want what’s happening in the public school to infiltrate what I have the authority over as homeschoolers,” Hulette said. “It’s going to impose some things on her that are illogical.”
Opposition to the standards has dominated Florida’s education conversation the past year, but Christina Phillips’ sixth grade language arts students at Monroe Middle School in Tampa wouldn’t know that from their school work. Phillips’ lessons have been Common Core-based for the past two years.