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Editorial: Answer lies in higher standards

Standardized tests have long been a topic of debate. Many feel they cover only a limited range of topics and skills, and argue that standardized tests don’t truly assess a person’s full capabilities, especially for those with test anxiety.

In Florida, the standardized test that comes under constant scrutiny is the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT).

The FCAT has been both hailed as a solution and condemed as a disillusioning factor in the Florida education system. Many schools base their curricula around the FCAT because failing grades on the FCAT might make them lose crucial funding.  Since many Florida students learn the topics that the FCAT covers and little else, higher education institutions are forced to train students to think outside the test’s parameters.

The St. Petersburg Times reported Sunday that Florida community colleges have found themselves having to teach remedial math, reading and writing skills to students in college because they can’t score high enough on the College Placement Test (CPT), which is administered to those without an SAT or ACT score.

Clearly, if a student can get through high school with passing FCAT scores without knowing the basics, there’s something wrong with the test — or the education system that sees it as a measure of success.

It’s unclear whether just raising FCAT standards would do the trick — that is, make sure high schoolers know a basic skill set when they graduate — which was the point of a standardized assessment in the first place. Florida must revise the FCAT so that teachers don’t feel prompted to teach to the test. The point is to develop a skills-based test that would prove competency in skills normally learned in classes.  If these things are done, high school graduates shouldn’t find themselves taking unnecessary courses to “catch up” to the level of knowledge that post-secondary institutions demand.

While critics may argue that standardized testing does not accurately reflect students’ talents, it is hard to disregard the fact that these tests are the most feasible, least-expensive way to gauge students’ abilities across the board.

Simply put, there is no easy option for replacing or removing standardized testing.

In fact, the argument can be made that to some extent standardized testing is needed simply as a quality-control measure. According to the Bradenton Herald, Manatee Community College is implementing a comprehensive exam that nursing students must pass before graduating because so many students are failing the licensing exam.

As demonstrated by poor CPT performance, passing FCAT scores clearly don’t correlate with even bare competency in core skills. But eliminating testing is not the answer. Strengthening Florida’s curriculum  to a level that simultaneously gives students knowledge and the analytical skills required to successfully complete a skills-based test and using standardized testing as a quality-control measure  is a more appropriate way to approach Florida’s secondary-education ills.