FCAT: Broke, beyond fixing; now’s the time to throw it out

Grant Miller, Publisher

Give a politician a square peg and a round hole and they will stubbornly pull out a drill or sandblaster to make them somehow fit. Since former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush changed state law to require comprehensive assessment testing (or FCATs) be administered to all grade levels (Gov. Bush’s 1999 A+ Plan) education in Florida has never been the same.

The problems have not been solved, they have only gotten worse. But, dang it, they won’t leave the test behind — even if the child is. “A” and “B” students are being left behind because of some impossibly unbiased be-all, end-all exam that is supposed to predict future competency and success. By simply applying the scientific method, it becomes a no-brainer that the FCAT is failing miserably. Consider the following:

• At least 46 of the 67 school districts (and five school superintendents) have written to the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) to ask for FCAT data reviews on “anomalies.” (Orlando Sentinel, July 15, 2010).

• Since the test began, public school teaching in Florida has all but imploded with a long list of celebrated instructors dropping out of the system over the years because they refuse to spend the academic year “teaching to the test.” In fact, the pressure has become so unbearable that at least one documented charter school was willing to cheat and view the test beforehand. As a result the FDOE has now had to take new measures to prevent schools from cheating. (Palm Beach Post, Apr. 18, 2012).

• State testing contractor NCS Pearson (being paid $254 million over four years to administer the test) has had to pay back millions in fees because of late FCAT results that essentially held the education system hostage until scores came in. (St. Augustine Record, June 8, 2010; Apr. 17, 2012).

• The tremendous disparity in the drop of FCAT writing scores for fourth graders — from 81 percent last year earning 4.0 or better (out of a maximum 6.0) to only 27 percent this year passing. So they lowered the bar. Passing scores became a 3.0 to the tremendous embarrassment of the entire Florida Department of Education. (Tampa Bay News, May 15, 2012).

In a recent Channel 10 News story by Michael Putney about the Broward County School Board voting unanimously against the FCAT, sponsoring board member Laurie Rich Levinson spoke for so many of us when she said, “Hundreds of millions is spent developing this test, while classes in science, social studies, art, music and PE are being cut.” We join with academicians and editorial page columnists around the state, as well as disgruntled teachers, parents, and students all over Florida who say, “let us do away with politicizing education in Florida; it was a bad idea. It can’t be fixed.” You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that a subjectively sketchedout test score does not determine a student’s ranking for success in life, nor the content of his or her character.

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