It’s Time to Halt the FCAT

KAREN ARONOWITZ, President, United Teachers of Dade

Last month, after Florida’s writing scores plummeted following the raising of “standards,” I called for a moratorium of the FCAT. It’s time to retire this torture device to the dungeon of bad ideas masquerading as accountability. Do you know what a 3 means on the FCAT Writes test? A 4?

Do you know what a score of 3 or 4 meant last year? Or what it will mean next year? Nobody does. But the fact that the scoring of these 45 minute first draft essays “raised the standards” is taken as a sign that the scoring itself met some kind of basic standard in validity and reliability. Except that it didn’t.

Many who say that our students should know grammar and spelling are pursing their lips in disapproval of our teachers’ instruction. I hear disapproval from those who last wrote an essay forty years ago. Since then, they have written short texts and emails without a care for punctuation, spelling, or grammar. LOL! I myself, a moderately good speller, am typing while my iPad corrects errors as I go. Typo or lack of knowledge? I’ll never tell!

Yet one day in March, our students sit down with a pencil and a piece of paper and are told, “Write an essay! BTW, one point off for every misspelled word.”

Those who think the FCAT means something about a student’s understanding of content are sadly mistaken. The math portions are often out of sequence of instruction. It is wrong to test students on material in which they have yet to have received instruction.

As for FCAT Reading, all the hodgepodge of strategies taught will not advance our students’ understanding unless they learn content. Reading comprehension takes place as students study content. You remember content, don’t you? Science. History. Geography. Literature.

Content instruction requires students to write essays on topics that test their understanding of the content area. And yes, our students’ handwriting is deplorable because they use the technology of their time, which corrects spelling and grammar as they write.

But that is not what Florida’s FCAT is all about. It’s a state test that doesn’t inform of us of how our students perform on a national platform. It takes weeks of time from instruction with a number of interim assessments required, often as frequently as every 3 weeks. It promotes strategies over content instruction.

And when millions of our tax dollars disappear into the coffers of the test makers, they are not held accountable when the scores don’t come back on time or accurately. Instead, our state punishes our students and teachers on the basis of their FCAT scores while forking over millions of dollars to the brothers and in-laws and assorted family friends of politicians and governors.

It’s time to call a halt to the FCAT. As Florida works to implement Common Core Standards with tests that show how students perform throughout the nation, we should save the millions of dollars wasted on the FCAT to reinvest in our public schools. We should use this money to provide a comprehensive education to all our students that includes physical education, the arts, music, and enhanced vocational-technical programs. These are the steps in education that provide our students the necessary skills and learning that lead to their success in work and life.

The United Teachers of Dade represents 35,000 teachers and school support personnel in MDCPS. The union is committed to being a leader in creating public school reform, fostering a quality public education for all students and elevating the professional status of teachers, paraprofessionals, office employees, and all school support personnel.

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19 Comments on "It’s Time to Halt the FCAT"

  1. Karen;
    you have never been better, clearer, or more on point than you are here.

  2. Hey Karen, why not put our money where our mouth is and call a STRIKE against the FCAT. I'm not suggesting work stoppage, but mass refusal to administer the tests. teachers can make our own tests that are a heck of a lot more valid.

    • I am completely agree with this response. Bravo!!!

    • BRILLIANT!!! How do you get the superintendents, school boards, region beaurocrats, principals, on board?

    • For years I've said that I would love to be in the first school that stands up and says "We're not having your silly test this year. Thanks, but no thanks." One can dream . . .

  3. I am a faithful unoin member, and yet I can't quite agree with Karen. FCAT or Common Core Test, or whatever test, if a student knows the subject he should be able to pass. If a students didn't pass the test he should never be promoted to the next level. And yes, shame on me, an old-fashioned teacher, I believe that spelling counts. Granted, there is a lot wrong with the FCAT, teacher evaluation, school grading system, endless interim assesments, etc. But the tests themselves are very basic, they can't stand any comparison to the tests/assessments administered – in some form or another- to the students overseas. And, honestly, the content that we teach is also very basic. The causes of our educational woes are MUCH more complicated than just controversial testing.

    • Well said! What happened to teaching grammar and spelling. Students who are learning a foreign language are required to learn the grammar for that language. Why this is not true for learning English….?Reading is improved by reading and not by drawing pictures with endless verbal discussions. Let the kids read and then write their opinions. This approach while old fashion worked in the past. Technology is fine but should not be ruling our lives. Just like video games are making our kids fatter because of lack of exercise, the mind also needs work and so thus the hands….

      • Karen you will do anything to try and muster up some votes for the future!!!! People still know you are doing a lousy job.

  4. Miami Lakes Citizen | June 28, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Reply

    Karen most parents, teachers and students would agree with this FCAT madness. The reasons we have this madness has to do with the $$$ being profited by a group of individuals. Simple as that.

  5. Dear teachers, PLEASE check your grammar and spelling before posting your comments. It is embarrasing!!! How can we trust the tests made by teachers ( see Joshua's comment), if teachers can't write properly? One of the reasons we fail the FCAT is – like it or not – the quality of the instruction, that is teacher quality. Let's be honest.

    • If corporate crazy-makers can create chaos "on the ground" in schools, among teachers and union members who finger-point and criticize each other, they will have succeeded in creating some of the necessary distractions for continuing their profit making goals. The education system needs improvements. FCAT is not the way.

  6. Dr. Anthony Krupp | June 28, 2012 at 6:12 pm | Reply

    Amen, amen, amen.

  7. "teacher" – To exactly what grammatical errors are you referring? Just as there is a big difference between on-line posts and professional writing such as test construction, there is also a world of difference between an actual grammatical error and a type-o. Unless you'd also like to be taken to task for your membership in a "unoin," please refrain from indiscriminate bashing of other teachers for their grammar and spelling.

    If you have something to say about a specific colleague, that's your prerogative. However, an amorphous blanket statement against other people's "quality" says a lot less about them than it does about you.

  8. Voice of reason | June 28, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Reply

    Dear teacher b4 u point fingers, u should check urself 1st. Take notice to ur 3rd sentence u clearly made a mistake it's not "if a students" instead it should b " if a student or if students". FOOD 4 THOUGHT # no one is perfect:)

  9. To Joshua: Yes, I agree that there is a world of difference between a grammatical error and a typO (!), but this is not what I was talking about. By the way, English is my third language, not even second, and yet I still make an effort to use grammar and spelling correctly, even though I teach math. To make it clear, I wasn't speaking about typos, but rather about the quality of our instruction – in the language arts too, but mostly in math. You may choose not to believe me but often times it is just a disaster when a teacher who majored in liberal arts is now teaching math. I have seen too many teachers who know very little math and still "teach" it.

  10. Karen, No matter what they say about Unions, the clarity of this letter reaffirms that we can NOT let the politicians take our Unions away. I am an Art teacher who is about to have 50% of his annual evaluation judged on how my 3-5 graders did on FCAT reading.
    Why do we need FCAT when we have Interim Assessments (and ETO Interim Assessments) 4 times a year which show more data than the FCAT could ever produce?

    • Jim, I totally agree. I am an Elementary music teacher who is totally fed up with this experimental and unfair evaluation system. It simply makes no sense at all. I can already foresee many awesome teachers leaving (or transferring) out of the public school system if they can.

  11. Ms. Kirchner | July 3, 2012 at 11:05 am | Reply

    Thank you, Karen for articulating much of what contributes to low student morale and the demoralization of teachers called to educate our state's youth. Ever since Jeb Bush began his false accountability and public humiliation/grading, I have been waiting for accountability of all other sectors impacting student and state achievement. They have not been forthcoming. That is further evidence that an "A+ Plan" was really about siphoning resources from public school classroom instruction. State monies must be re-assigned to the constitutional mandate to provide high-quality public education in this state in the comprehensive way Karen writes about in her last paragraph.

  12. I think that students should know and learn the mechanics of the English language. These things help students to become better writers and readers. They are the basis and building blocks to helping children with reading comprehension, proper grammar, spelling and punctuation usage. Computers should be to help fine tune the above things, but not take the place of a classroom teacher. Virtual School is another area that should be look into, to see how affective it is. Students should not be allowed to work at their own pace with a virtual school class, because some students are not discipline enough to stay on task and they end up failing the class because there are no dateline dates when assignments are due, and they are great procastnators. which puts them behind.

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