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Politics

Most voters dislike FCAT use

But they don't know the positions of the gubernatorial candidates on use of the test.

By THOMAS C. TOBIN
Published October 30, 2006


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Most Florida voters don't like how the state uses a standardized test to grade schools. But ask them which candidate for governor would change things, and they are far less certain.

Fifty-nine percent of voters in a St. Petersburg Times poll said they oppose how the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test is administered as the centerpiece of a strict accountability system for public schools. The number was even higher in the Tampa Bay area.

In other words, they agree with Jim Davis, the Democratic candidate for governor. But only 36 percent said they trust Davis to handle the task of improving public schools.

The flip side: 40 percent said they trust Republican candidate Charlie Crist to improve schools. But only 32 percent agreed with Crist's position that the FCAT, as currently administered, is a good thing for Florida's schoolchildren.

One explanation: When asked who they trusted to solve a specific problem, people went with the candidate they like in general, said Tom Eldon, vice president of Schroth/Eldon & Associates, the firm that conducted the poll for the Times.

"They don't understand completely every candidate's position on the issues," he said, noting that the numbers signal a potential opportunity for Davis.

"Davis hasn't had a lot of money to talk to voters, and people aren't as aware of where he stands on the issues," Eldon said. "He will probably pick up voters if he talks about the FCAT."

The statewide telephone survey of 800 voters was conducted for the Times by Schroth/Eldon and the Polling Co. from Oct. 22 to Wednesday. The margin of error statewide is 3.5 percentage points; for bay area results the margin is 7.75 points.

Among the 800 Floridians polled was David Hammons, a retired Largo Democrat who calls the FCAT time-consuming and "stupid."

"It seems the teachers are only teaching what they need to pass the test, and not teaching what they should be," he said, voicing a common FCAT complaint.

Yet Hammons has long supported Gov. Jeb Bush, the father of the FCAT-centered A+ Plan. And he plans to vote for Crist.

Jefferey Kelley, a 55-year-old independent in Seffner, also plans to vote for Crist yet has little love for the FCAT. His wife is a teacher.

"I see what she goes through," he said. "The stuff on the FCAT does not jibe with the curriculum. If it did, I don't think people would be as upset."

Ed Armstrong, a politically active lawyer in Clearwater, offered another explanation for the seeming contradiction. Voters, he said, may see the FCAT as only part of the broader education picture in Florida.

"They're not equating the two, obviously," Armstrong said of voters.

In a position statement submitted earlier this year to the Times editorial board, Crist said that the A+ Plan is a huge success and that abandoning it would be "an indefensible risk."

"After all," he said in Tuesday's gubernatorial debate, "life is a test."

But in an interview with the editorial board on Oct. 10, Crist put more distance between himself and the FCAT, saying he might be open to making the A+ Plan "more malleable."

"I'm an open-minded guy," Crist said.

Said Davis: "I will end the use of the FCAT as we know it."

He said the FCAT "is used to punish children, teachers and schools."

He also has criticized Republican education policy, noting that Florida's dropout rate remains high and the percentage of state tax revenue spent for K-12 education has declined under Bush.

Staff writers Steve Bousquet, Adam Smith and Alisa Ulferts contributed to this report. Thomas C. Tobin can be reached at 727 893-8923 or tobin@sptimes.com.

[Last modified October 30, 2006, 05:19:26]


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