Putting Education Reform To The Test

Five Reasons The Anti-FCAT Resolutions Won’t Work

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School districts across the state are adopting a national resolution opposing the emphasis on standardized tests.

In Florida, that test is called the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. The exam has been particularly criticized this year after state officials raised standards and minimum scores — and the percentage of students passing some tests plunged as a result.

Several districts — Alachua, Broward, Osceola and Palm Beach schools, among others — have approved the resolution (read a version here) and many others may follow.

But even as school boards vent their spleen about the test, more is riding on FCAT results than ever.

Here’s five reasons why the FCAT protests are not likely to accomplish much.

1. Merit Pay — Thanks to the Student Success Act every school district in the state is developing a way to pay teachers based on their performance. Half of that assessment depends on whether a teacher improves a student’s FCAT scores based on a complex statistical formula.

To get rid of the FCAT would mean throwing out or rewriting the merit pay law as well (Florida’s largest teacher’s union is challenging the law in court.)

2. The No Child Left Behind Waiver — Florida is one of a handful of states which has been granted a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law. That waiver hinges on a tough state designed accountability system that measures whether schools and teachers are doing their job.

The FCAT is the backbone of that accountability system. Without the FCAT the federal government could revoke the waiver. And if No Child Left Behind was a better option, why go through the hassle of applying for the waiver?

3. Politics — Any effort to get rid of the FCAT would require legislative action, and the current legislature isn’t likely to. In general Republicans (and many Democrats) support the state accountability system.

And Republicans hold large majorities in both legislative chambers. Gov. Rick Scott used FCAT scores to rank every state school from first to worst — so he doesn’t seem to have any issues with the test either.

4. A better test —  Florida earned an ‘A’ in accountability on Education Week‘s annual “Quality Counts” rankings. The state scored the highest ranking for standards and school accountability, and was among the nation’s best for assessments.

As former Florida education commissioner John Winn notes in today’s Tallahassee Democrat, the FCAT is likely a superior test to other options. That includes national standardized tests which FCAT opponents offer as an alternative.

Here’s Winn:

Replace FCAT with national commercial tests that were used before state testing. Commercial tests compare Florida students with the national average, a very low bar as revealed by international tests. This low bar generally makes our students look better, making many people happier. These tests do not embody Florida, national or international standards, nor do they measure proficiency.

Grade level equivalent scores have long been criticized by experts as meaningless. Florida educators would have no role or stake in test development, scoring or setting standards for proficiency. Finally, why would school districts, which loathe low scores, purchase tests from companies having a reputation for developing rigorous tests?

5. Common Core — The final reason the FCAT won’t be scrapped is that it’s already going away as part of the national move to adopt Common Core standards.

Common Core is a collaborative project among 45 state and the District of Columbia to redesign school curriculum and testing standards so they are more uniform across the nation and better match what colleges and employers want in high school graduates.

New assessment test will be part of Common Core, with the goal of allowing state comparisons.

Florida is among the state’s leading those efforts, which also have the backing of former Gov. Jeb Bush and influential state education groups.

Why would Florida reinvent the wheel if it’s already reinventing the wheel?


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