Putting Education Reform To The Test

Inside FCAT 2.0: What Changes Mean for Teachers, Students

Sarah Gonzalez / StateImpact Florida

At Booker T. Washington High School, students likes Danna Contreras, took turns taking the online FCAT reading test because there aren't enough computers for sophomores to take the test at the same time.

Danna Contreras doesn’t like the new FCAT.

The sophomore at Booker T. Washington High School in Miami emigrated from Colombia three years ago.

She wears thick, pink-rimmed glasses and she squints a lot. She says the new computerized version is harder to take.

“I think I am better with paper, not on the computer because sometimes my eyes hurt,” she said.

That’s not the only reason she’s worried about her reading score.

“I have difficulty speaking English and the vocabulary is really hard,” she said.

Students are taking a new, harder version of the FCAT this year, called FCAT 2.0.

The test is supposed to be harder to pass and the stakes are higher than ever.

From now on, FCAT results will help determine whether teachers keep their jobs.

Contreras is an honors student. But she says her performance in class doesn’t matter anymore.

“Because you can be an A student the whole year, but if you don’t pass the FCAT they make you take easy classes,” she said.

FCAT results determine whether students go into remedial courses, called “intensives,” or honors classes.

She says it seems like flawed logic.

“To everybody they give the same test. And I think if they give you more easy classes they don’t want you to expand your mind,” she said.

More Students Are Expected to Fail

More students are expected to fail the FCAT this year because Florida has raised its academic standards.

Sarah Gonzalez / StateImpact Florida

Students at Jose de Diego Middle School in Miami says the new FCAT didn't seem like a harder test. They said it was just boring.

Sharon Koon with the Florida Department of Education says the FCAT 2.0 requires students to remember more material they learned in earlier grades.

For example, if the math concepts mean, median and mode are taught in 6th grade, Koon says, “We would expect that students are able to solve problems related to those concepts in 7th grade without formulas being given.”

The FCAT was first introduced in 1997 to academic standards created in 1996.

Florida has just updated its standards — now called the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards.

“And every time you adopt new standards you do have to change your assessments,” Koon said.

The contractor Pearson is being paid $254 million over four years to develop and administer the new FCAT.

The new test isn’t just important to students. Starting now, FCAT results will help determine whether teachers keep their jobs.

Jennifer Smith is a French teacher at Hialeah High School in Miami-Dade County.

Fifty percent of her evaluation will be based on the school’s FCAT score in reading.

“And I’m a French teacher, not an English teacher or a reading teacher,” she said.

Smith says most teachers will have half their score come from FCAT subjects they have no influence over.

 In many cases, teachers are being evaluated on students they don’t teach.

Students who pass the FCAT as sophomores don’t have to take the exam anymore.

“And if you only teach 11th graders or 12th graders, your evaluation is based on the reading scores on the ninth and tenth graders,” Smith said, “students who are not even your students.”

If reading scores are low for two out of three years new teachers will be brought in.

Smith says schools in low income communities, like hers, will get penalized for low grades teachers can’t always control.

“School is not always the first priority and in a lot of cases it’s not always the parent’s priority either,” Smith said.

“Sometimes, they’re so busy trying to find a job or working 2 or 3 jobs to keep the lights on and unfortunately that trumps homework.”

By 2015 school reading scores will also help determine how much teachers get paid.

Student Dana Contreras says that puts too much pressure on students.

Sarah Gonzalez / StateImpact Florida

Jennifer Smith is a French teacher who will be evaluated based on her school's FCAT results in reading.

“What happens if that day you broke up with a boyfriend and you want to cry and you don’t want to see the test,” she said.

Ezekiel Harris, a sixth grader student at Jose de Diego Middle School inMiamiis already feeling the pressure from his school.

“They say that the test is more important than your school work,” he said.

He said his results will tell him if he’ll get into “the smart classes.”

There’s even been a small movement by parents who are pulling their children out of school during FCAT testing.

Linda Kobert is a mom of a freshman in Orlando. She says pulling her child out of testing is “something we’re considering.”

“It’s become the measure of whether a child will advance a grade, graduate high school and I have issues with what we’re doing to teachers.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Colombia.


  • Science Teacher

    I’m a science teacher in Polk County and my evaluation will be based on reading test scores.

  • I’m a physical education teacher in Seminole County, and my evaluation will be based on the reading scores of students with whom I have no contact.

    • I”m a Social Studies teacher in Pasco and the same thing goes for me.  What a load of BS.  Personally, any kid that tells me they want to be a teacher gets a lecture from me to choose another profession.  Especially if they want to be treated like a professional, not be blamed for all of societies problems, and wage deserving of your education.

  • mcreste

    Unless Dana arrived by way of Columbia University, the spelling of the country is                 C-O-L-O-M-B-I-A.

    • Rbates694

      Dana didn’t write the article and Mcreste, she spells her name DANNA.

    • StateImpactJOC

       Corrected. Thanks for pointing it out.

  • Rbates694@aol.com

    It tells me the zip code I live in, how many ESE and ESOL students we have and absolutely nothing about my child or the teachers. And as a very successful adult, I can’t calculate the median and mode without getting the formula. So it tells me who has a better memory. This test is the states way of trashing schools and teachers and turning more schools over to private for profit charters.it’s garbage and parents should opt out their child. How about putting that 250 million back into the schools for smaller class sizes, more electives, and better technology.

  • My wife and I voted with our feet. Perhaps if we had been Florida natives we might have been more emotionally invested in the state, but we only moved there in 1997. Yes, Georgia has its fair share of problems too, but they are not yet on the scale of Rick Scott’s pillage-and-burn mission. Of course, many of the people who were so giddy at Scott’s election are now wondering how THEIR children, schools, and teachers are going to perform and what happens when money that should be going to their “successful” school system is diverted to voucher programs and charter schools. I have news for you– there is only so much money and “failing” schools aren’t going to be the only ones taking the hit. Rick Scott and the Cons want to get rid of ALL public schools, not just the poorest ones. 

  • Ttrevor2010

    I had a student finish his reading test in 5 minutes

    • garnett

      so did I… and this is why I wonder how they hold us accountable for the scores. We can’t control some of the things that they do.

  • Marblemania

    ANd the one thing I will say is where were the teachers in the last governor’s election? Because after analysis about who turned out, guess who didn’t? Guess who have been silent for years as more and more emphasis has been placed on tests and testing? Teachers. If just the teachers had turned out, this ALEC tool would not be our govenor. WE have the profession we deserve because we do nothing. Start voting,writing your congresspeople, and speaking out. Our kids and our teachers deserve better.

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