Saturday, June 13, 2009

Does FCAT prepare students for life after high school graduation?

A body of research by this blog's founder has revealed that all of the harms relating to testing mentioned in this article have and continue to be imposed on students. Policies that continue to create the pressures that perpetuate these harms should no longer be called unintended consequences.


By Kathy Bushouse | South Florida Sun-Sentinel
June 8, 2009

For about as long as Caty Jusevic has been in school, there has been a Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

The FCAT debuted roughly a decade ago to measure whether students can read, write and do math at grade level. Jusevic, 17, a graduate of Monarch High School in Coconut Creek, says she's unsure if the test was a good thing.

It prepared her for the high-stakes SAT but "I think it's actually taken away from my education," said Jusevic, who will attend Florida State University in Tallahassee. "I feel like in school, all I was being taught was how to take a test."

But does the test prepare students for life after high school? Many parents, teachers and administrators don't think so. And business owners who will one day hire the graduates say the qualities they want have little to do with test material.

Supporters wonder why it's controversial since it simply tests the subjects students are supposed to be learning. And they point to state education statistics showing more students are reading and doing math at grade level than before.

Academics have issued dueling studies over the years. Some say the state's accountability measures have helped motivate failing schools to improve. Others argue the FCAT simply encourages teachers to teach to the test.

Much rides on the test, given to students in third through 11th grades. Third-graders need to show proficiency in reading, for example, to move on to fourth grade. Sophomores need to earn passing scores to graduate. FCAT scores in all subjects determine what grade a school will receive from the state.


Jennifer Martin wonders whether her son, who just graduated from Dillard High School, has learned the skills needed to help him through his freshman year at the University of Florida in Gainesville. "I don't really think he knows how to study, to be honest with you, because they've done it all for him," Martin said.

Jauvona Jenkins also has no love for the test, but for different reasons -- two of her three children have come just shy of passing the math test. Her daughter had to take it three times before passing, allowing her to graduate from Coral Springs High School. Her son, a junior at Boynton Beach High School, is taking the test for a second time. Both are honor students, and both struggled with the test, said Jenkins, a Kaplan University admissions counselor who lives in Boynton Beach.

"It doesn't matter if you're an honor student," Jenkins said. "That one test is going to stop you."


Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Art Johnson wants accountability, but it has drawbacks. "We teach to the test," Johnson said, which fails to take into account that "education is a continuous process, and students learn at different rates."

Broward Schools Superintendent James Notter said the FCAT lets the district identify and fill gaps in students' learning. But he said people become fixated on the grade schools receive from the state based on those FCAT scores, rather than what students are learning.

"I don't know any college or university that has an entrance criteria of your FCAT score," Notter said.


Sara Srebnik has learned to wrap FCAT preparation into her daily lessons. Science and social studies offer chances to reinforce reading skills, for example. The problem, said the fourth-grade teacher at Riverglades Elementary School in Parkland, is that FCAT preparation "doesn't teach you to be any kind of a critical thinker or problem solver."

Ellen Baker, an English and exceptional student education teacher at William T. Dwyer High School in Palm Beach Gardens, laments the lack of time to delve into books. Her classes read both To Kill A Mockingbird and The Odyssey this year, but they "zoomed through" them.

"I don't really get to do analyzing a textbook, and how important it is to read a textbook when you're in college, and how important it is to read and study and prepare for things," Baker said.


Patricia Levesque, executive director of the Foundation for Florida's Future -- an education policy group -- said the test created a singular focus on ensuring students were learning up to state standards.

"There are so many good things that are happening because of the test, and because of the measurement and the accountability that goes along with the test," Levesque said. "More kids are reading. More kids are able to compete on grade level."

When FCAT scores were released last month, the state trumpeted students' success: 72 percent of third- through fifth-graders reading at or above grade level, up 18 percentage points since 2001; 62 percent of middle school students reading at or above grade level, up 14 points since 2001. Even high school students, whose reading scores have historically been low, showed improvement: 42 percent of ninth-and 10th-graders were reading at or above grade level, up 10 points since 2001.

BUSINESS OWNERS When it comes to getting a job, the FCAT isn't a measure of what's needed.

Those test scores don't matter to Andrew Faber, chief operating officer of Fresco Development Group, a Dunkin' Donuts franchisee with 10 stores in South Florida and Jacksonville. He's looking for someone with good people skills, who is able to deftly deal with "a customer at 6:30 in the morning, when the coffee isn't perfect."

"That's not covered under the FCAT," Faber said.

Deborah Vazquez, CEO of PROTECH, an information technology staffing firm in Fort Lauderdale, agreed. She needs people with skills in communication, diplomacy, good judgment and "that's not necessarily something that you learn in school."

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