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June 7, 2012
Recently, there have been renewed calls to "end the FCAT," "ring the bell on FCAT" and the like. Let us examine the merits of that idea with a less frenzied approach. What happens after FCAT disappears?
Option 1: Eliminate standardized testing altogether. In virtually all sectors of society, accountability is viewed as necessary to ensure thoughtful behavior that protects the public. Do we really believe that education is so unique that no such accountability is needed? And, of course, there cannot be accountability without standards, measurement and reporting.
This option cheats our students, parents and teachers of any external benchmark for a quality education and student progress. It also results in a massive loss of federal funding, since assessment is required for federal dollars.
Option 2: 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?
Option 3: Start over and develop a new test with a new name. To whom would we give this task? No FCAT change has ever been made, including the recent FCAT Writing exam, without the widespread involvement of Florida teachers, Florida content experts and national content and assessment
experts. No FCAT assessment questions or standards, including the recent FCAT Writing changes, have ever been adopted without the consensus of all these participants.
It would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to start over, and the end product would likely be a test that continues to reflect the best professional judgment of Florida and national experts. Bad idea.
It is certainly true that the Department of Education made mistakes with the new FCAT Writing changes. It tried to implement the changes too fast. But the standards and scoring criteria were produced through a consensus of Florida and national language arts specialists — the best we have. We
need to learn from these mistakes and be more deliberative in the future. It should not be an excuse to throw out one of the most credible assessments in the country.
School districts and schools have made mistakes as well. Too many educators thrust their own stress over accountability upon their students, adding to anxiety over school and testing. There is no doubt that accountability produces a measure of stress, but FCAT is high-stakes for a very
small percentage of public school students. Who has made it high-stakes for all? Teacher-given tests and grades are much more important to all students. Can't we act in loco parentis, protecting children from the deepest worries of adults?
Option 4: Work toward positive motivation, making education fun and engaging, and allow testing to take care of itself. The best teachers do just that.