FCAT should live up to the standards it demands

Do you remember the FCAT?

Yeah, unfortunately, I do too.

The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test is a test that – ideally – makes sure students are as dexterous in math and reading as they should be for their grade level. It also acts as a check on the education system, assuring that the state of Florida is meeting the requirements outlined in the No Child Left Behind Act. Ideally is the key word here.

Yesterday, the St. Petersburg Times featured a headline that proclaimed, “State admits FCAT scoring error from last year.” The error was shown when the percentage of students who passed dropped 6 percent. In 2006, 75 percent of third graders who took the FCAT passed. In 2007, it was 69 percent. This plunge provoked an investigation, and it was discovered that last year’s exam was too easy – meaning that some students advanced to the fourth grade who should not have.

The state has not explicitly released its plan on how to fix this situation. The St. Petersburg Times was told that “last year’s third grade test will be re-scored in the next few weeks with the help of an independent group of experts, including district superintendents and testing directors. (We do) not know how big an adjustment will be made.” They smile with hope as they promise that “an independent panel of experts” will audit the tests from now on “to make sure there are no future glitches.”

The impact of this mistake may be an annoyance for the state, but it is dire to the students. At such a young age, being told that they did well enough to pass into the next grade and then hearing someone take this statement back is more detrimental than telling them the truth in the first place. The state did not intentionally lie, of course, but these students are going to feel deceived. At this point in the game, it is too late to send those students who should have failed back to the third grade since they have already completed the fourth.

The biggest impact of this situation is the FCAT itself. There are already many complaints about the FCAT. Some people – myself included – feel the FCAT standards have taken over the educational experience. I spent more time in English taking FCAT practice exams than reading eitherShakespeare or Steinbeck. In math, I could’ve spent more time practicing the laws of sine and cosine instead of learning how to bubble in grid answers.

Although the FCAT is important, the importance of passing the FCAT has far surpassed the importance of getting a good education on teachers’ to-do lists. The FCAT was originally designed to enhance and enforce the educational experience but instead is leading it in the opposite direction. Teachers have no choice – they must focus on FCAT curriculum or risk losing their jobs. All this for an exam that possesses a credibility in very murky waters.

It does not matter whether I think the state will keep its word and provide an accurate test next year. What matters is that my peers and I wasted countless semesters and classes practicing for the FCAT. What matters is that my sister and her peers spent evenings studying and crying – as third graders – terrified after being told the severe importance of passing this exam. They were afraid, and thousands of other Florida students are afraid too. It’s more than passing an exam. It’s the fear of failing that extends into the fear of friends advancing on without you. If the students put in so much effort – effort that is encouraged by the state – the least the state could do is get the test right.

Education is not something to be toyed with. The Department of Education should realize that and manage the FCAT accordingly.

Amy Mariani is a sophomore majoring in mass communications.