The perennial cry from parents and teachers who criticize the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test is that students are spending too much time on those tests. And that cry grew louder when the state announced that FCAT scores plunged in 2012 after a revamping of the test.
Students take the high-stakes exam for math, reading and other subjects in grades 3 through 10. Third-graders who get low scores are at risk of being held back. Students ultimately must pass the FCAT or earn an equivalent score on the SAT or ACT to graduate with a standard diploma.
Gov. Rick Scott said in July that its time to take a second look at the FCAT after the state has received so many complaints from parents about the tests. Scott told a conference of newspaper editors that between the FCAT and other tests, students may be tested too much.
Scotts education commissioner, Gerard Robinson, has been playing defense about the FCAT since the state announced earlier this year that a new grading formula would result in a drop in school grades. Statewide, the percentage of A schools dropped from 58 to 48 percent. (Robinson announced Tuesday he was resigning from his post at the end of the month.)
Reflecting a backlash against testing, more than a dozen individual school boards in the state, including Broward and Palm Beach, have passed a resolution against the FCAT. The Florida School Boards Association passed its own version of a resolution criticizing the FCAT in June.
Robinson penned a June 15 response, which included these comments: The FCAT neither drives the curriculum nor narrows the educational experience of Florida students. These assessments average two to three per student per school year and account for less than 1 percent of the instructional time provided during the year. It is worth noting that local school boards require students to take many more assessments than those required by the state.
There are a few interesting claims in Robinsons statement, but the one that caught our eye was that tiny figure: The FCAT accounts for less than 1 percent of instructional time. We wonder if lunch or recess could add up to more than 1 percent. So we decided to research whether Robinsons 1 percent claim was correct.
What Education Department says
Robinsons chief of staff John Newman told us in a July 19 interview that the education department staff pulled together figures for Robinson about a month ago in response to the publics concerns about the amount of time spent on the FCAT.
He sent us a copy of an excel spreadsheet showing how much time is spent taking the test. This refers only to the minutes to take that exam not the amount of time spent preparing for it during regular school hours or after-hour extra sessions that some students attend.
By dividing the number of minutes spent on the FCAT by the number of minutes in a school year (54,000 minutes based on 900 minimum hours of school instruction a year), the education department determined that students spend anywhere from .26 to .90 percent of their time taking the test.
But Robinson used the phrase instructional time in his claim, which could fairly be interpreted to mean classroom time spent preparing for the test.
School districts arent required to track how much time they spend preparing students for the test.