How Florida Pivoted In Replacing the FCAT And What Happens Next

By on March 22nd, 2014

A new test will be replacing the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) in public schools statewide next year, and Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart announced Monday who will be creating the new assessment.

After months of deliberations, and a shift from previous initiatives, Stewart said the state accepted a $220 million bid from American Institutes for Research to develop the test.

“The selection of our new assessment tool is a critical step forward,” State Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand in a press release. “Florida students will be assessed on their knowledge of the Florida Standards, which will prepare them for success in college, careers and in life.”

The state chose from five bids, including NCS Pearson, Inc., McCann Associates Holdings LLC, CTB/McGraw-Hill and ACT, Inc.

The notable exclusion from this list was Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

Florida was one of 17 states that formed the consortium responsible for the development of the PARCC test, which was expected to replace the FCAT.

The PARCC test was based on educational standards called the Common Core, which the state adopted in 2010 in exchange for a $700 million grant from the federal government, said Cheryl Etters, press secretary for the Department of Education.

The state was not required to adopt Common Core but chose to because its standards met the requirements for the grant.

Florida pulled out of the test development when Floridians complained that Common Core standards were an intrusion by the federal government into state rights, said Jackie Johnson, spokesperson for Alachua County Public Schools.

Schools considered PARCC a likely candidate to develop Florida’s new standardized test until the American Institutes for Research’s test was selected, Johnson said.

A bid evaluation committee unanimously recommended AIR to the education commissioner, Etters said.

When Florida was searching for a replacement test, Gov. Rick Scott requested it meet eight objectives, including prompt result reports, no significant change in testing time for students and no significant increase in assessment costs. According to the press release, those goals will be met with the selection of AIR.

The test is expected to be administered as close to the end of the school year as possible to allow students maximum time to learn and prepare.

“It’s a constantly moving target, and that’s very frustrating for teachers, for families, for students and for everybody involved in public education,” she said. “It would be nice if the state would pick something and stick with it.”

In the last few years, the state has made more than 36 changes to standards, testing and the configuring of school grades, Johnson said.

The School Board of Alachua County agrees with the Florida Association of District School Superintendents in that districts need at least three years of testing to make adjustments before they are penalized or rewarded for test scores, she said.

How well students score on the approved standardized test affects students, teachers and schools. The tests are used to make hiring and firing decisions for teachers and influence teachers’ salaries. They also influence schools’ grades.

Students who don’t do well may not graduate high school. They also have to take more remedial courses, which means fewer social studies, foreign languages and electives. Johnson said this gives them less incentive to go to school.

Schools are required to be fully transitioned to the new standards by the next school year, the first year the new test will be administered, she said.

Eastside High School Principal Jeff Charbonnet said he thinks students will be prepared for the new test.

“We assume that the test is going to measure the standards, and we are very familiar with the standards,” he said.

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