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FCAT-type college test just doesn't go far enough

By HOWARD TROXLER
Published January 26, 2004

The idea of requiring Florida's public university students to take a standardized test, akin to the FCAT in the public schools, is fantastic.

We can call it the UCAT, with the U standing for either "university" or Steve Uhlfelder, the member of the state Board of Governors who is pushing it.

The UCAT! Absolutely. It is time to crack down on professors and students who might otherwise be conducting, you know, "research" and "learning" or whatever.

They need to be taught the real meaning of education, namely, filling out little circles with No. 2 pencils so their grades can be screwed up by whichever private testing company has made the biggest campaign contributions to Florida politicians.

Florida has a chance to set the gold standard here. No other state in the nation has thought of making its university students interrupt their course work to jump through standardized testing hoops to prove they can write and think critically. (Do not make any smarty-pants jokes about testing whether our Legislature can think critically.)

The only trouble is, the UCAT as proposed is not tough enough.

Here is what we ought to do. Some people will think it is too tough, but it is time to crack down.

We should require testing in every single college class.

You heard me right.

I say, let's really get accountable and require testing in every single class. In fact, under the system I propose, we would test twice during the term of every college class.

One test, under this method, would occur about halfway through the term. For that reason, it would be called, well, let's see ... got it. It would be called a "midterm."

At the end of each course, students then would be required to take one last test. Because it would occur near the completion of the course, I propose it be called the "final" examination.

Now, here is the get-tough part. Each student would be held accountable for his or her performance on the test. Students would receive a personal assessment called a "grade," and this "grade" would be entered into the student's permanent record.

Each "grade" for a course then would be used to compute, for each student, an overall "grade point average," or GPA for short, to rank that student's total performance at the university.

The tough measures shouldn't stop there, no siree. Students also should be required to maintain an overall GPA of a certain level in order to be able to continue their education and, at the end of their course work, to graduate.

Although some might consider this overly demanding, even discriminatory, the GPA also should be considered in admitting students to graduate school. Some employers might even wish to consider the GPA in making hiring and salary decisions, as these freshly minted college students enter the work force.

Now that's accountability!

The UCAT, as mentioned earlier, does include a test of "critical thinking" among college students. This is a welcome surprise, and Florida leaders should be praised for their courage in inviting citizens to engage in critical thinking even though it would probably result in their mass firing by the voters.

UCAT SAMPLE QUESTIONS

Critical Thinking Section

Representative X voted last year to pollute the aquifer, cut health care for kids, ignore the voters' class-size amendment and raise residential telephone rates. At the same time, Representative X was paid large sums of money by the corporate beneficiaries of these votes. Representative X now has erected large billboards proclaiming herself to be "Your Friend."

Is Representative X your friend?

Yes

Writing Section

Compose an essay of at least 200 words on the following theme: "Florida will be better off if university students have to take a standardized test instead of engaging in free-form learning, analytical reasoning, creative research or individual intellectual discovery."

[Last modified January 26, 2004, 01:00:43]


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