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FCAT change a good thing

December 21, 2011
By Dr. JOSEPH P. BURKE - Guest Commentary , Pine Island Eagle

As you've probably heard, the state will be rolling out its newest version of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, commonly referred to as FCAT 2.0. What makes this new version different is that it will require higher academic performance by our students as compared to previous versions.

If there's one thing to know about FCAT 2.0, it's this: the change is a good thing.

Initially, FCAT 2.0 will result in dips in student and school performance - whenever you increase academic standards, initially the number of students at or above those standards decreases. That's right - while we're doing what's right for students academically, in the short-term it isn't going to look good.

That means school grades could slip; more students may be retained in third grade; more students may have to take remedial courses rather than electives; and fewer students may meet the requirements to graduate from high school.

Those dips in academic performance will be temporary - based on past increases in standards we expect performance to once again meet and exceed minimum requirements. What will be lasting is that our children will be learning more at each grade level and they will be at a higher academic level tomorrow than they are today.

FCAT 2.0 is only going to be with us for three years - it's being replaced by common core assessments, which are being adopted by numerous states. These new tests are very demanding, so we're implementing FCAT 2.0 to be the "academic bridge" to these more rigorous tests.

Like older versions, FCAT 2.0 will still show students performing at levels 1-5 (levels 3-5 are at or above standards.) What's different is what it will now take for a student to be considered at or above standards (i.e. raising the "cut score.")

Some of this is based on the fact that the FCAT 1.0 scores weren't aligned. Under FCAT 1.0 it was difficult to predict how a student would fare from elementary through high school. In other words, students who showed solid academic performance each year at the lower grades could wind up below standards when they made it high school simply because the cut scores weren't properly aligned.

So the state convened a group of more than 300 educators from across Florida (standards-setting committee) and then a reactor panel of superintendents from across the state to critically examine the current FCAT. When the dust settled, both groups recommended bringing the minimum standards up at the lower grade levels so they were more in line with those at high school.

We thought we were all set with the recommendations, but it appears Florida's Education Com-missioner has now decided to increase the high school cut scores. By making those adjustments, it's not only going to adversely affect the alignment through all grade levels but, more importantly, it is going to significantly in-crease the number of students not meeting the minimum graduation requirements.

To put this into perspective, by moving the cut scores up at ninth and 10th grade, it could potentially mean an additional 400 students not passing the FCAT. It was, and is still, the reactor panel's position that the high school cut scores are where they need to be and don't need to be adjusted.

What I want our community to know is that when the FCAT 2.0 results come out, it doesn't mean our students are learning less - quite the contrary, they are learning more. It may take a year or two for the results to reflect that academic growth, but I can assure you that our students, teachers and schools will be ready to meet - and exceed those new academic standards.

Dr. Joseph P. Burke is superintendent of Lee County Public Schools.



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