Q: Why do we have a statewide test?

Florida has a statewide test, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), in order to measure student progress toward a set of clear and high academic standards. The FCAT measures whether or not a student is moving closer to meeting those standards.

Q: Does my child’s FCAT score impact his/her class grades or promotion to the next grade level?

Florida’s FCAT tests do not impact student’s grades or whether or not they are promoted to the next grade, except in 3rd grade.

In 2002, Florida required retention for students who could not read successfully at the end of the 3rdgrade. Students who scored at the lowest level (Level 1 on FCAT reading) are retained unless the student meets some good cause exemptions or demonstrates in another way that the student can read successfully.

There are six good cause exemptions identified in law. Many of the exemptions recognize special needs of students with disabilities, English language learners or students who were previously retained. However, there are two exemptions provided because Florida recognized that one test given on one day should not be the sole factor in retaining a child.

Students who do not pass the FCAT can move on to the 4th grade by scoring successfully on an alternative test, or by demonstrating reading success through a teacher-administered portfolio of the student’s work during the school year or summer reading camp.

Q: Does my child’s FCAT score impact his/her ability to get a high school diploma?

Yes. For more than thirty years, Florida has required students to pass an “exit exam” in order to receive a high school diploma.

The current requirement is for Florida students to pass the grade 10 FCAT in both reading and math. Students have opportunities to take the exam during the sophomore, junior and senior years. Students can also meet the testing requirement by scoring at a certain level on either the ACT or SAT, which are widely accepted college entrance exams.

For the 2011-12 school year, 9th grade students will have to pass an end of course exam in Algebra I in order to receive a credit. For the 2012-13 school year, 9th grade students will have to pass the end of course exams in Algebra I, Geometry, and Biology I to receive credits towards a high school diploma.

Q: Who develops the FCAT questions?

Every year, the Florida Department of Education uses a professional test development company to develop new FCAT test questions.

Then, committees of educators and other experts review each and every test question before the question is ever placed in front of a student as a part of the FCAT test. Over 300 Florida educators serve on these committees each year.

Q: How are the FCAT questions reviewed?

Committees of educators review each and every test question before the question is ever placed in front of a student as part of the FCAT test. Annually, more than 300 Florida educators serve on these committees.

The questions go through a two-year development process before they are included on a student’s test. They are also thoroughly reviewed for accuracy, alignment to standards, bias, sensitivity, and validity.

There are 5 subject area review committees: reading, mathematics, science, social studies, and writing.

The teachers who serve on these subject area committees review each question and make sure the questions are accurate, appropriate for the grade level being tested, and aligned to the state standards for that subject and grade level.

All questions then go through a bias committee, comprised of teachers, principals and parents. This committee reviews questions to make sure no question is biased for or against students based upon race, gender or geographical location. For example, a question that asks students what does the expression “that dog don’t hunt” mean would be determined to be biased in favor of students in North Florida who are more likely to hunt and against students in South Florida where hunting is not as common.

All questions also go through a sensitivity committee, comprised of teachers, principals and parents. This committee reviews questions to make sure no offensive language or situations are presented within the question. For example, after Hurricane Katrina, questions related to hurricanes or to girls named Katrina may have been removed from the test because of the stress that question may cause on students taking the test.

Any one person on these committees can raise concerns about a test question. Those concerns are seriously considered and addressed before deciding whether to use the test question.

When the question first appears on a student’s test, it is called a “field-test question” which means the students are asked to answer the question, but that question is not used/calculated in the student’s overall score on the FCAT.

All of these field-test questions then go through a final, technical validity review committee. This committee reviews the “statistics” of the question – how did the students actually do answering the question. If too many students miss the question or too many students get the question correct, the question could be eliminated because it may be too easy or too hard.

This thorough process for how FCAT test questions are developed and reviewed has become a model that other states try to use in the development of their state tests.

Q: Who serves on the FCAT review committees?

The FCAT review committees are primarily made up of Florida teachers; however, principals, subject-area experts, and community leaders are asked to serve each year as well.

Committee membership is balanced, based on where each member lives, their ethnic origin individual and the size of the county they represent in order to ensure a diverse and representative group of test question reviewers.