FCAT is a good idea

The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test is a good idea, but the test is far from flawless.

When Florida’s Department of Education created the FCAT in 1998, it wanted to ensure that high school diplomas wouldn’t become mere slips of paper unreflective of learning or critical thinking skills.The higher standards were supposed to be implemented over time, with grades 3-11 taking versions of the test that were gradually more difficult.

That didn’t exactly happen. The level of achievement expected from students on the FCAT is staggered throughout grade levels unfairly, thereby preventing the point of the test itself – to draw attention to failing schools and students, and to retain the value of the high school diploma -from being achieved.

According to the St. Petersburg Times, the FCAT is administered to students in grades 3 through 11. In high school, however, the FCAT becomes so much more difficult that it’s almost unfair.

Just ask 11th-grader Kristen Jackson of Alonso High School, who hasn’t passed the FCAT reading requirement after two tries.”But by another reading test, she can read as well or better than 96 percent of her peers nationally,” according to the Times.Jackson isn’t a poor student, either: She earns A’s and B’s.

The problem isn’t only Jackson’s. Two-thirds of seventh-graders may have passed the FCAT last year, but that’s twice as many as the number who passed in high school. Judging from Jackson’s results, the test is drawing attention not only to bad schools and students, but good ones as well. The test isn’t achieving what it was intended to.

Luckily, the problem is obvious enough: The tests from grades 3-9 are too easy. The teachers who made the test in 1998 made the high school tests difficult on purpose. But those test-makers failed in their goal of making the tests uniformly difficult. Thus, if the state wants to keep the FCAT, it’s going to have to better prepare students over several years for the rightfully difficult high school version.

But there’s still a problem: Some, such as Joseph Torgesen of Florida State University, argue that the high school standards are simply too difficult.

Perhaps, but Florida should beware lowering the standards too much. The purpose of the FCAT was to increase Florida’s standard of education. Doing so in a fair, equally staggered way through grades 3-8 should be the first attempt to fix a broken FCAT.

The point of the FCAT was to raise standards. Doing the opposite is simply futile.