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Raising the bar: The future of FCAT reading, math tests

December 1, 2011
By RICHARD ITZEN , Lehigh Acres Citizen

Increasing standards and rigor for students is a good thing and something our community has said is important to ensure their children are prepared when they graduate. This was one of the prevailing themes from the recent Market Watch Education Summit.

As our community was engaged in the conversation, the State of Florida was already working on addressing the issue of increasing the academic expectations we should have for our students. The State is looking at not only increasing the rigor of FCAT Reading and Math sometimes referred to as FCAT 2.0 but they are at the same time raising the "cut score" used to determine what is considered at or above standards.

"Given the need to continue to ensure academic viability for our students, we must continue to raise the bar academically," said Dr. Joseph Burke, Superintendent of Schools. "There's nothing wrong with expecting more from our schools and students we owe it to our children to ensure they're ready to compete against their classmates from across the globe."

So, what does this all mean?

First, with the increase in the cut scores, school districts across the state are going to see the numbers of students not performing at or above standards increase. One review by State officials showed that if the proposed new Algebra exam was in place in 2011 for middle and high school students, nearly 45 percent would have been considered performing below standards.

Dr. Burke wants everyone to understand that a dip in test scores is nothing to be afraid of when you increase standards. In actuality, students will be learning more.

"When you raise the bar, initially you are going to see test scores drop it's an expected outcome," Dr. Burke said. "But historically, every time the state has increased standards, schools and students have risen to the occasion and exceeded previous performance. And we expect and demand that here in Lee County."

Dr. Burke said that if as a community we truly want to be world-class and provide the best for students, then we have to be willing to do things that have difficult consequences but in the long-term will prove very beneficial.

Dr. Burke has a unique perspective on these increases he is one of a dozen or so superintendents from across the state who were part of a committee that reviewed the new recommendations. The committee took a hard look at standards across the board with the goal to not only raise the academic bar, but to ensure the standards were consistent in grades 3-10, the tested grades in Florida.

"Our main focus was bringing increased rigor while making the achievement realistic and doable," Dr. Burke said.

One area of concern is at the third-grade level. Currently students must earn at least a 2 on the 5-level assessment in order to move to the fourth grade. There are exemptions in place that schools can use to determine if a child who didn't score at least a 2 should still be promoted to the next grade. Any increase in standards will have an impact at the third-grade, with the potential of more students needing to be held back.

Dr. Burke also said that in the not-too-distant future, the test we've all come to know these past years the FCAT will be going by the wayside in favor of Common Course Exams and End of Course Exams at least at the high school level.

"We are always looking to the next thing when it comes to measuring student achievement," he said. "We need to be sensitive to student needs while at the same time ensuring they are prepared academically."

Dr. Burke said he has met with principals and provided data for each specific school to show where their students are currently, and what it would look like under the proposed increases in standards and rigor on the FCAT itself. Staff have been working to identify and implement programs (such as additional intensive reading, intensive math) knowing that the changes would be coming from the state.

"There's no doubt it's going to be tougher," said Dr. Burke. "And that's okay we want our students to be challenged, we want them achieving at the highest levels. We also want teachers, students and parents to know that we are successfully preparing our graduates for the challenges of the future," he said.

Richard Itzen is director of accountability with the Lee County school system. - Ed.



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