Facts on the FCAT and Florida's Path to Success

Florida is a national leader in adopting and implementing new, higher standards to better prepare students to master crucial skills. A fundamental part of this strategic plan is our state’s data-based accountability system – a system fueled by Florida’s nationally lauded standardized assessments. Browse through the following information and pages for answers to your questions on Florida’s standards, measurements and accountability systems.

Florida’s Education Standards

FCAT

FCAT Writing Test

For Parents of Third-Graders

Common Core State Standards

What Teachers Need to Know

Algebra 1 End of Course Assessment Q & A

School Grades Q & A

 

Q: What is the State of Education in Florida?

A decade ago, Florida schools were ranked near the bottom nationally, and our students were at a disadvantage when competing against those from most other states. Through a careful process of raising standards and measuring student progress, Florida students have made impressive gains. That same survey that once ranked Florida near the bottom now puts us at No. 11 among all 50 states.

We still have further to go, and that’s why Florida is raising standards. It’s the right thing to do for our students.

Q: Why does Florida insist that testing is good for our schools and children?

Testing by itself will not improve our schools—and that’s not what Florida is advocating. But, using well-designed tests to measure student progress toward a set of clear and high academic standards is sound educational practice, and it works. The FCAT measures whether or not a student is meeting those standards.

Q: While the end goal may be to genuinely prepare our young people for the future, how will teaching to the test do this?

Florida does not want – or ask – teachers to teach to the test. The state wants educators to teach to the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards, which they helped create. If students can meet the expectations of the standards, then the test will take care of itself.

These new standards require students to dive deeper into and learn more about important concepts instead of learning bits and pieces about lots of concepts.  Students will need to demonstrate real skills and knowledge, not just an ability to pass a test. Our new standards require students to think critically, to work cooperatively, and to problem solve creatively—skills critical for success in the workplace and for the jobs of tomorrow.

It’s the standards—not the FCAT—that make this possible. We must prepare Florida’s children to be competitors in their local community, in the state, in the nation and the global economy, and through our dedicated teachers, new standards and assessments, that will happen.

Q: Should you be worried if your child dropped in performance on this year’s FCAT?

The FCAT 2.0 assesses the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards, which set expectations of what Florida public school students should learn by grade level in each subject. On December 19, 2011, the State Board of Education established new Achievement Level standards for FCAT 2.0 Reading and Mathematics.  Spring 2012 is the first time results will be reported according to these new standards.  Because the FCAT 2.0 is based on more demanding content standards and the achievement standards are more rigorous, scores may appear lower on the new scale than on the previous scale for certain grades and subjects.

If your child’s score is now in a lower Achievement Level (e.g., if a child has dropped from Achievement Level 3 to Achievement Level 2), we encourage you to discuss your concerns with the teacher or your child’s guidance counselor.  You are encouraged to use these scores as a point of conversation with the teacher or school to best determine the next steps in helping your child achieve his or her academic goals.  It’s important to keep lines of communication open with your child’s teacher(s). Let them know if you are worried about your child’s score and ask what your options are to help your child improve.

Please know that this is an effort to prepare your student for success after high school, in college, in the workplace, and in life. Raising standards and measuring students’ progress toward the standards is the right thing to do.  You can find more information about your student’s report on the Florida Department of Education’s website in Understanding FCAT 2.0 Reports Spring 2012.

Q: What can you do to help your child be prepared for next year?

Work with your child’s teacher and make sure that your student has the support they need to move forward. There are many resources available at the state and local level that support parent involvement in education. It’s worth a trip to your school or community center to increase your level of involvement and understanding of your child’s educational needs.

For additional information and resources please visit here.

Q: Isn’t toughening the standards without giving kids more help and resources to meet them just setting them up to fail?

No. Florida would never pursue a system that would set its children up for failure. Florida education leaders, including the state commissioner of education, school superintendents, school principals and school boards are committed to providing teachers and students the resources they need to be successful in the classroom. Struggling students have access to a host of help and support, summer Reading camps, longer school days, after school tutoring, and individualized education planning involving their parents and teachers.

Florida has not established new achievement levels in reading and mathematics for more than 10 years. The world has changed a lot since then, and it’s time to raise the bar. Florida teachers helped write and approve the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards, which will help them better understand their student’s needs and help us focus our resources in ways to better support schools and teachers.

Q: How many third graders will be held back under these tougher standards?

Some students will need additional help in reaching these new standards. The Florida Department of Education estimates that as many as perhaps 14 percent of third graders will not meet the new reading standards and may have to repeat third grade. Learning to read is the most critical skill a child learns in the early years of school, and it can truly affect their life’s trajectory. Statistics show that if a child has not mastered basic reading skills by third grade, they have a one in four chance of eventually dropping out of high school.  But if you can get a third grader reading proficiently, they will graduate 96 percent of the time. Holding a student back in order to help the student master reading is painful in the short term, but is clearly the right thing to do for children over the long haul.  Click here to learn more about Florida’s third grade reading focus.

Q: What will happen to students who may be held back?

Schools are making plans to get these students the help and support they need, such as summer reading camps, longer school days, and individualized education planning involving their parents and teachers.

Q: What is the state going to do to ensure schools and teachers have the resources they need to help kids meet the standards?

Lawmakers added $1 billion to the state budget for schools next year to ensure that students and teachers have the resources needed to master the new higher standards. And the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards will give our state honest feedback on where students stand. That will help the state, schools, and teachers better determine how and where we should focus our resources so that students get the help they need to succeed.

Q: What is the state doing to hold parents accountable?

Obviously, parents play a critical role in the success of their children, probably more than any other factor.  And Florida strives to give parents the resources they need to raise happy, healthy kids. But the role of the state’s education leadership is to direct resources and efforts toward what matters most inside the school, and that’s quality teaching and high standards for all kids. Parents are important, but good schools and teachers are too. 

Q: Why will some school’s grades drop this year?

For the first time in 10 years, Florida has raised the bar for passing scores on the FCAT. As a result, scores dropped this year, and so did many schools’ grades. That does not mean Florida’s children know less than before, or that teachers are doing a bad job. Anytime standards are raised, some students will struggle to meet the new expectations. That’s what happened this year. Overtime teachers and schools will sharpen their focus and develop successful strategies to get more kids over the higher bar.  These school grades provide a clear picture of where we as a state need to focus improvement so all students are receiving an education focused on the skills and knowledge today’s economy demands.

Q: How do we know that raising standards is what we need to do?

We know this from our own experience here in Florida. When we first implemented the old Sunshine State Standards, Florida schools were not held in high regard—one report ranked us third from the bottom, nationally. Florida’s students were at a disadvantage when competing against those from most other states.

Through a careful process of raising standards and measuring student progress, Florida is now 11th from the top – among all 50 states. That’s clear evidence that what we are doing is working, but it’s also a sign that improvements on this scale take a long time and require that everyone stay committed to the task at hand.

We still have a ways to go, and that’s why Florida is raising standards. It’s the right thing to do for our students.

Q:  What are Common Core State Standards?

The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts &Mathematics (“the Standards”) are the culmination of an extended, broad-based effort to create the next generation of K–12 standards to help ensure that all students are college and career ready in literacy no later than the end of high school.

The Standards also draw on the most important international models as well as research and input from numerous sources, including state departments of education, scholars, assessment developers, professional organizations, educators from kindergarten through college, and parents,students, and other members of the public. Click here to learn more about Common Core State Standards.