Community Voices

Beyond the Classroom: Move over FCAT, here comes the new standardized test

Roll out the red carpet for here comes the new standardized test: The Florida Standards Assessment (FSA).

In the last column, I discussed the new Florida Standards (FS). These new academic expectations for students from grades 3 to 12 were created to add rigor and depth to better prepare them for their eventual college and career paths. Teachers use the FS as a guide to provide the content that requires students to think deeper and support their answers with evidence. Since the standards are expectations and not curriculum, how students are taught to master each skill is up to the school and school district, and ultimately the teacher.

With these standards now in place, the next step was to devise a test to evaluate how effective the teacher is in teaching these standardized concepts and to assess how well the students mastered the concepts.

As the testing window looms near, teachers, students, parents and administrators are busy preparing and bracing themselves for the inevitable storm of change. Will the students be ready? How will they perform? How will student performance impact teachers?

This year, the new test called the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) will be unveiled and delivered to your school. For many, the FSA will be a challenging language arts and writing exam as well as a math exam, served on a paperless platter for grades 5 and above. End of course exams such as civics, biology and U.S. history remain unchanged, but algebra I and geometry end of course exams have been tweaked to meet the new standards. A new algebra II exam has been added to the lineup. This year will also be the last year that grades 5 and 8 will take the science FCAT.

Students can expect fewer multiple choice questions — the backbone of the FCAT — and instead will find a demand for real work such as writing, display of thoughts and computations and demonstration of higher ordered thinking skills like translating creating a graph from data taken from a chart and by comparing and contrasting text.

With all this work, the new tests will take longer to complete. Some estimates come in at 100 minutes longer for the new language arts exam.  

Not only that, but the passing scores (based on older tests) of this first round of new exams will probably resemble the stock market reports of 1929 and 1987. According to an article by Orlando Sentinel writer Leslie Postal, when New York implemented its new standardized test based on Common Core benchmarks, the proficiency ratings of their 3rd- to 8th-graders fell from 55 percent to 31 percent.

So how do we ensure that these tests are fair, and who comprised the group who created this test? Education Commissioner Pam Stewart told Florida principals that she felt the new assessment would help prepare all students for their paths to college and careers. She selected the test maker — a research group referred to as AIR — to make the FSA at a price tag of $220million, for a six-year contract run. No one can ever guarantee fairness in this because students, like the rest of us, are hardly standard — but the expectations are. The concept of standardized testing and the culture of testing will be discussed in another issue.

How the scores of this first round of testing are handled will be interesting. Although there are formulas in place to measure student growth, it is difficult to compare academic growth on a first-year test. Most district administrators have asked that schools not be held accountable for the first-year scores, but students and teachers alike will still have to deal with its impact on graduation, promotion, job retention and salary. Schools and districts will obviously be focused on the impacts of ranking.

The PTA.org website offers these suggestions for helping your child prepare for these tests:

▪ Discuss the new tests with your child to reduce fears and anxieties going into the tests.

▪ With an older child, explain that the new assessments were made to ensure he or she is on track to succeed after graduation and to identify any issues early enough to give more support where it is needed.

▪ Explain to your child that the tests will initially be more challenging but that you have high expectations and will be there for support.

▪ Review test results with your child, taking time to discuss areas of strength and areas where there is room for improvement.

▪ Provide a quiet, comfortable place for studying at home and make sure your child gets a good night’s sleep before a test.

▪ Read all comments written by the teacher on classroom lessons and tests. Ask teachers to explain anything that is unclear and discuss how you can best work together to address any concerns.

▪ Monitor your child’s progress. If your child needs extra help or wants to learn more about a subject, work with his or her teacher to identify opportunities for tutoring, after-school clubs, or other resources.

▪ Understand that a single test score does not represent all that your child can or cannot do. It is a snapshot only. Assessment scores are useful but should not be the only factor in determining a child’s academic growth.

▪ Meet with your child’s teacher as often as possible to discuss your child’s progress. Ask for activities to do at home to help your child prepare for tests and to improve your child’s proficiency in skills called for in the FS.

Laurie Futterman ARNP is a former Heart Transplant Coordinator at Jackson Memorial Medical Center. She now chairs the science department and teaches gifted middle school science at David Lawrence Jr. K-8 Center. She has three children and lives in North Miami.

For more information

Read more about the FSA test and schedule at http://info.fldoe.org/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-7047/dps-2014-81a.pdf

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