“The FCAT is a great tool, but it can’t possibly give us all the information we need,” says spokesperson for the Alliance for the Betterment of Students with Rigorous Discipline (ABSRD), Beatrice Potterland. Currently, many districts administer as many as 62 tests to students during the school year which equates to one test every 2.8 days of student attendance. “It isn’t enough”, asserts Potterland.” Our mission is to ensure children are tested every day they attend school. We can’t gather the necessary information on student and teacher performance without continually using those [the FCAT, FAIR testing, ePats, EOCs, etc.] diagnostic tools.”
In fact, Florida is developing new tests to replace the current FCAT next year. Children won’t just fill in a bubble on a multiple-choice exam; they’ll be asked to underline text, write essays, show work for every math problem, highlight every preposition, and circle every letter “T” within the text and testing materials. In addition, students will be required to write 5 of their own comprehensive test questions that will then be gathered and utilized on the 2016 FCATs. These new FCAT tests will take students, on average, 3 months to complete.
In the meantime, Florida is paying Utah over $5 million to borrow the test questions they’ve written. Some taxpayers oppose Florida’s cash-strapped districts spending money to buy test questions from another state. Principal of Montgomery County’s Herald High School, Dr. Antwan Johnson is concerned. “A problem we’ve run into is that Florida’s students are accustomed to questions like, 'If Daquan steals a $300 pair of shoes and runs 4.7 miles before being caught by the cops, how much time will he do?' and the Utah-generated questions read like, 'If John is 36 years old and his wives are 30 and 26, and he has 10 children, what level of Heaven will he get to?' The ABSRD insists that this is just a minor issue that will be easily solved as Florida spends another $5 million to train teachers how to train students how to answer Utah’s test questions for the 2015 FCAT.
“Of course, we’ll make sure our teachers are adequately trained to administer the new FCAT next year,” Potterland assures us. The current 388 page FCAT testing manual, the 140 page FCAT Writes manual, and the 260 page FCAT computer-based testing manual will be supplemented with a fourth, more comprehensive manual. Test administrators will also be required to complete an additional 20 hours of training. “Don’t worry. We wouldn’t think of leaving teachers to administer this test [FCAT] without first training them on how to collect students’ cell phones, tell time, break open the seals on the tests, pass out pencils, and read the testing instructions verbatim.”
Some people may criticize that Florida currently administers far too many tests, but a recent survey of 150 teachers in Orange County found that 97% of them think there isn’t enough testing. “Every year we’re required to give more and more tests to our students, leaving us with very little time to actually teach. It’s wonderful! I have so much more free time now that I don’t have to come up with lesson plans or grade papers,” says Montgomery County high school teacher, Marianna Fitzgibbons. “With all the computer-based testing this year, it takes us a month to get through the FCAT. There are over 1000 students testing and only about 100 computers in the school. Teachers are forced to hold one class [so students don’t make noise passing from class to class which could disrupt those who are testing] for an entire day. We just put on movies for the kids to watch during the testing month. I’ve almost gotten through my entire Netflix queue!”
Potterland agrees that more testing, not less, is what is needed if students are to succeed. Teachers receive bonus money if enough students pass the FCAT. Schools that don’t earn an “A rating” don’t get “A school” money. “This system rewards those teachers who teach kids how to pass the test and weeds out those teachers who don’t like to do things by the book. The teachers who get to know their students and try to tailor their teaching to their kids’ learning styles, the ones who get creative, and the ones who are passionate about teaching will either learn to conform or they will quit, leaving behind the teachers who are dedicated to standardized teaching in a standardized world,” says ABSRD spokesperson, Potterland. “That [rewarding schools that have a high percentage of students who pass the FCAT] is how we will ensure that every school is accountable. The best judge of an individual teacher’s worth is how many students in the school pass the FCAT.”
Currently, Florida’s public school students are required to pass the FCAT in third grade in order to be promoted to the fourth grade. In addition, tenth grade students must pass both the reading and the mathematics FCATs in order to graduate from high school. Soon that will change. “We’re pushing to ensure the FCAT holds even more weight next year. If a student fails the FCAT at any grade level, they will not be promoted to the next grade. If a tenth grader fails it, they will not be allowed to graduate. Under the current rules, tenth graders who fail the FCAT can retake the test up to 5 more times in an effort to pass and thus earn a diploma. Potterland disagrees. “Students shouldn’t be given more chances to pass the FCAT. If they fail, they fail. That’s life. When they can’t attend college, they’ll learn just how important testing is. Starting next year, there will be no ‘do-overs’. That’s why they [students] need to take tests every single day, so they know how to take a test. That’s [test taking] what kids need to learn. That’s what is going to get them into college.” Under this new plan, students may try to obtain a GED and attend trade school, but will not be accepted into any college, thus eliminating anyone who simply isn’t suited for higher education.