The Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test (FCAT) has been a focus of school reform in Florida since its introduction in 1998. While proponents have hailed the test as a way to improve learning outcomes, others are more critical. Some of the objections to FCAT focus on the test itself, while others consider the impact that the administration of FCAT has on K-12 education in the state.
Depending on grade level, the FCAT can take up to eight hours to administer, spread out over as many as nine days. In addition, teachers frequently must devote time every class day to have students practice for the FCAT. Researchers, Marsha Simon of the University of South Florida among them, have charged that the time diverted from normal curriculum activity to prepare for and administer the FCAT shortchanges student education.
Another criticism focuses on the way some use FCAT scores to assess Adequate Yearly Progress, a measurement of the improved learning outcomes at a school. The process unfairly burdens schools and districts with high numbers of poor students and/or students from non-English-speaking families, a bias statistically demonstrated by Walter Tschinkel of Florida State University and other researchers.
Narrowing the Curriculum
So much pressure is put on schools to raise FCAT scores that schools often narrow curriculum to focus on subjects that will appear on the test, Marsha Simon and others have charged. They fear that teachers will be punished for lesson plans that stray from the goal of FCAT test preparation.
Some researchers charge that the FCAT itself is constructed in such a way as to produce results that are biased against some student groups. For instance, Damon Bryant of Tulane University found that the reading level of test items in the FCAT math sections were significantly higher than the grade level for which the tests were intended, thus biasing the math scores based on a student's reading ability. Because African-American students are less likely to read at or above grade level, their math scores will suffer disproportionately, Bryant argues.
- Strawberry blonde taking notes image by Sandra from Fotolia.com