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FCAT-like tests heavily criticized by campus leaders

Some USF faculty, administration and student leaders expressed disapproval Sunday of a new proposal that could bring standardized testing to Florida universities. The testing, which would be similar in style to the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), could be used as a tool for divvying state funds among Florida’s 11 state universities.

The proposal, discussed last week by the Board of Governors, will be voted on in March.

Among those opposing the measure is USF President Judy Genshaft, according to Michael Reich, director of media relations at USF.

“We’re not opposed to measuring university effectiveness, but we are not convinced standardized testing is the way to do it,” Reich said.

The proposed test is the only measure still awaiting a vote from a seven-part plan presented before the Board of Governors. The other six parts, which include measuring minority student enrollment and money brought in by faculty through research grants, have already been passed.

Interim Provost Renu Khator said USF is capable of judging its own productivity without a state-mandated test. Khator said higher education leaders need to look at the impact the FCAT has had Florida public schools.

“We measure ourselves in so many different ways. We have our accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. We earn accreditation from a lot of professional organizations,” she said. “We have our own measures in our strategic plan.

“The idea of putting in place one single requirement for all college students is unfeasible.”

High school and college are two different animals, according to Khator, who said the test would limit free thought.

“The whole beauty of college is that it allows you to think differently, to think in ways you didn’t think before. To introduce standardized tests would risk making all the teaching at universities lean towards one single test.”

Faculty Union President Roy Weatherford thinks the proposed test would not only discourage independent thought, but punish those who promote learning outside the guidelines of a test as well.

“The union does not have an official position, but I think it’s fair to say that most of the members think it’s absurd to think that spending time and money (on standardized testing) will improve education,” Weatherford said. “We have seen already in the K-12 system how standardized tests tend to result in all schooling being focused on passing a test rather than understanding the world.”

Standardized testing in college defies logic, Weatherford said.

“Trying to improve education by testing more frequently is like trying to fatten a hog by weighing it more frequently,” Weatherford said.

Weatherford said that, while the administration opposed the measure, USF’s Board of Trustees will likely be driven by political ties before taking a stance.

“Most educators (oppose it),” he said. “Our Board of Trustees is less concerned, though, because they tend to think along the same lines as the governor who appointed them.”

However, BOT Chairman Dick Beard’s thought on the issue fell in line with the rest of the university leaders.

“I’m not really for (standardized testing),” Beard said. “I think it is an idea that has been tried in the public (high schools), but I think once you come to college it is not necessarily a good idea.”

Beard said a university’s own guidelines should be used to determine productivity and funding.

“The first question is, ‘Should (standardized testing) be tied to anything?’,” he said. “Universities need to have a strategic plan, and funding should be tied to their ability to live up to that strategic plan.”

Student Body President Omar Khan said that should a standardized test be introduced, it would bring more stress to an already-burdened college student’s agenda.

“From sitting in at BOT meetings, I see it is not just students who are opposed to it. To students, it is a burden, on top of all the things we already have to do, it is one more thing to study for, one more thing to push back graduating” Khan said. “As for faculty, you don’t want faculty members all teaching towards one test. You don’t want it deluding what they are teaching or jeopardizing the students’ education.”

Education is not the only questionable aspect of the proposal, according to Weatherford, who said determining universities’ funding according to test results is a conflict for the state.

“In the K-12 system we have already seen that public schools are being rigidly constrained and punished by the examinations, while private schools are being given tax dollars with no such accountability,” he said. “In Florida we already subsidize the students who attend private colleges and universities (through state-funded scholarship programs) with essentially no quality control or supervision of those institutions.”

Kahn said the diversity of the state’s public universities presents issues as well.

“They’re trying to standardize all the schools, but you look at the universities — Florida Gulf Coast, the University of Florida, UCF, USF, etc. — and you see, we’re all very different schools,” Kahn said.