Tuesday, August 21, 2012

New Exams Coming to Florida

The Orlando Sentinel reports about the new standardized tests that will replace FCAT 2.0. They are known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams. These exams compliment the new Common Core standards many states are in the process of adopting.

The FCAT, long Florida's most important and sometimes most reviled exam, is headed for a retirement of sorts. 
But when the state shuts the door on the math, reading and writing sections of Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, it will usher in a new set of tougher standardized exams in those same subjects. 
The introduction of the new tests will come at a time when the state is facing increasing criticism about what some call its "testing mania." Some complain the state relies too heavily on scores from one-day FCAT exams to make key education decisions, from student promotion to teacher evaluations.
The criticism reached a high point this spring after the state ratcheted up scoring standards for FCAT and the FCAT-based grading formula for schools. 
Contrary to popular opinion, most teachers do not have a problem with standardized testing per se. The issue is with how the tests are used. The current FCAT tests and the eventual PARCC exams will determine student placement, teacher evaluation and pay, school grades, school funding, etc. While many will focus on the "one test on one day" argument (which is a legitimate one), I tend to complain about students taking these tests in February and April. School doesn't end until June! Therefore, the teacher is responsible for teaching a school year's worth of material and helping her students achieve mastery approximately eight weeks before the end of the school year. That doesn't make sense. 

Well, it does make sense to the testing company, who needs weeks to grade and compile the data. (In Florida, that hasn't even been enough time as they have delayed Florida's results before. They also came under fire for a glitch that kept 7,000 New York City elementary and middle school students from  walking in their graduation ceremonies.) Considering the brouhaha over the validity of the tests themselves, are we really serving our students by testing them  in April? Should the fourth grade teacher or seventh grade teacher be responsible for teaching the next grade's material after FCAT season, or should those teachers only be responsible for teaching their grade level's material? 

Since these tests are here to stay, we might as well figure out a way to make them work for our students. I think the best answer is to shift the tests to the end of the school year so they truly gauge how much the students progressed during the school year. 


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