For the past few months I've been talking with anyone who will listen about the significant changes that were coming to the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT. And while I may have sounded like the little boy who cried wolf, I wanted to ensure the community was prepared for what it would see when the 2012 results were released.
Well, the first part of those results are out, and to say it was a shock to people both locally and statewide would be an understatement.
This year the State changed what was graded as part of FCAT 2.0 writing. Unfortunately those changes were made without giving districts enough time to properly prepare. And when the results came out, it was clear the State may have made a slight miscalculation. That's because virtually overnight the percentage of students at or above standards dropped by nearly 60 percent.
Now I think we all realize that our students didn't become poor writers from one school year to the next, and the State admitted as such when they agreed to adjust the minimum score needed from 4.0 to 3.0.
As I've met with various groups and individuals these past few months, I've kept saying that while the scores are initially going to go down - and it's not going to look good - the fact is we're increasing what students are learning. In other words, we're increasing academic expectations, and that is always a good thing. If we are truly to prepare our students for a global society, we must continue to raise the academic bar to keep up with the rest of the world.
But like most change in life, it isn't always pretty and the FCAT 2.0 writing scores prove that point. What I want is for everyone to realize that whenever you change the rules in the middle of the game, there will be an initial downturn in performance.
That downturn, however, should be temporary - and past changes to the FCAT show that to be true. We fully expect - through the hard work of students, teachers and staff to see FCAT scores start to rise again. That's been the history of our District and there's nothing to say that cannot continue to be true.
And remember, in three years FCAT 2.0 will be replaced by the Common Core Standards, which will be even harder. FCAT 2.0 is serving as that "academic bridge" that I have talked about, increasing rigor and helping students learn more than ever before.
There's one thing I want everyone to know - for me, sustained drops in student performance is simply unacceptable. There's no other way to say it. A slight "course correction" as we increase standards is one thing, but I will not stand for our students continuing to see their performance drop.
So as we continue to move forward through the changes FCAT 2.0 brings to our schools and students, it's important to know that there may be initial drops in performance, but my staff and I will not rest until we get students at - or above - academic standards.
Dr. Joseph Burke is the superintendent of the Lee County School District.