tampabay.com

FCAT to be revamped to fit new standards

Not only will test questions change, but the timing of the test and its name may change.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published February 7, 2007


TALLAHASSEE - As students began taking this year's Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, education officials Tuesday outlined plans to rewrite the test over the next four or five years to conform to new standards.

The FCAT will be revamped to match pending updates in the Sunshine State Standards for math and changes for reading and language arts approved last month by the State Board of Education, said Kris Ellington, the Education Department's student assessment program director for kindergarten through high school.

"It is critically important that this test that has such high stakes for kids and adults ... is one that meets the highest possible standards," Ellington told the House Kindergarten-12 Committee.

At stake is whether third-graders are promoted and high schoolers graduate, whether schools are rewarded or punished and whether teachers receive merit pay.

"It's going to be a new test," Ellington said. "A new name may be advisable."

Rep. Curtis Richardson, D-Tallahassee, agreed that the FCAT needed a new name because it has become detested by students, teachers and parents. The high stakes put too much pressure on them, he said.

He said the test should focus on its original purpose - diagnosing individual student learning needs - instead of being an all-purpose measuring stick.

The Republican-controlled Legislature, however, is unlikely to make any drastic changes in that role.

"The world that we live in is a world of high-stakes testing," committee Chairwoman Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said in the hearing. "The SAT exam is a high-stakes test. A job interview is a high-stakes test. Your election was a high-stakes test."

Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who took over from Bush on Jan. 2, gave FCAT critics hope during his election campaign by saying he would be willing to consider changes.

So far, though, Crist has advocated no major adjustments. He has suggested only that principals get a greater say in which teachers qualify for merit pay under a new state program based mainly on student improvement on the FCAT and other standardized tests.

The FCAT would need to have more questions to serve as a diagnostic tool or students may have to take other tests, Ellington said.

"Then, we'll just sit here three years from now having this debate of saying 'Oh, now we've got the FCAT and the MCAT and the whatever cat,' " Flores said.

One possible change lawmakers will consider is delaying the FCAT until near the end of the school year.

Once the test is revised it must be field tested for a year before it can be used for assessment.