Public pronouncements by any governing institution remain one of the best ways to measure its tenacity of purpose. Embodied inside the words adults choose to convey an important message are their hopes and fears about the future. That is particularly true when schoolchildren are the topic of conversation.
Yesterday’s vote by the Florida School Boards Association (FSBA) in favor of an anti-high-stakes-testing resolution is a perfect example of adults expressing concern about the future. Unfortunately, the resolution is short on providing hope to schoolchildren who are Florida’s future. Similar to the national resolution that calls into question the need for educational assessments, the FSBA’s resolution claims the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) is too expensive, narrows the curriculum and is a detriment to student success. Let us separate rhetoric from reality.
Florida invests $16.5 billion in state and local funds to support public schools. Our assessment investment is $59 million. Ensuring that our parents, educators and taxpayers are aware of our students’ educational achievement equates to less than one half of one percent of our investment in public education.
Florida’s Next Generation Sunshine State Standards are the foundation for what we expect our students to learn. Subjects covered by Florida standards include English language arts, math, science, social studies, physical and health education, world languages, and fine arts along with other content areas specific to colleges and careers. Contrary to the claim of the FSBA resolution, the FCAT neither drives the curriculum nor narrows the educational experience of Florida students. In fact, at the middle school level, student enrollment in courses such as dance, drama, and world languages has increased more than student enrollment in the subject areas assessed on the FCAT. At the high school level, enrollment in dance, world languages and the humanities has outpaced the growth in student enrollment.
Florida statutes require students take the FCAT in grades 3-10. These assessments average two to three per student per school year and account for less than one percent of the instructional time provided during the year.
Grade 3 = FCAT 2.0 reading and math
Grade 4 = FCAT 2.0 reading, math and writing
Grade 5 = FCAT 2.0 reading, math and science
Grade 6 = FCAT 2.0 reading and math
Grade 7 = FCAT 2.0 reading and math
Grade 8 = FCAT 2.0 reading, math, writing and science
Grade 9 = FCAT 2.0 reading
Grade 10 =FCAT 2.0 reading and writing
EOCs = Algebra 1, geometry and biology
It is worth noting that local school boards require students to take many more assessments than those required by the state. For example, four of the first few districts to adopt the anti-high-stakes testing agreement require significant testing in addition to state requirements. This additional testing ranges from an average of four to nine additional tests each year per student.
In closing, the FSBA has a right as a governing body to express its opinion about Florida’s accountability system and the tools used to evaluate student achievement. School boards in Florida also have an obligation to implement the education laws approved by the Florida Legislature and the rules promulgated by the State Board of Education. Raising the benchmark set forth in our Next Generation Sunshine State Standards, and annually assessing progress through the FCAT, is a formula with a proven track record of success over the past decade as evidenced in gains made by students—based on race, ethnicity, disability, language, income and other criteria. Surely we have more gains to make, and are putting in place metrics to accomplish this goal, which I know is shared by FSBA. And as Florida walks toward internationally-benchmarked Common Core State Standards adopted by 45 states and 3 territories, now is not the time to focus on a future tapered by fear of so-called high stakes assessments. Instead, let us focus on using assessments to help Florida students develop the high-level skills they need to be successful in higher education, to earn higher-incomes in the workplace, and to participate at a high level in a nation bubbling with high expectations.