It’s time again for Florida’s most notorious test.
But if students and teachers think they the last of the changes to the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, they have another thing coming.
FCAT testing starts Monday for students across Florida, once again with a slew of changes to the way results are measured.
Students in Collier County have been preparing for the test for months, with thousands signing up for Saturday academies to supplement what they have learned during school hours. Last week, schools held spirit days and pep rallies to help them unwind.
“It’s like a destressor — ‘Here we go; we’ve worked so hard let’s take a deep breath,’” Collier Assistant Superintendent Fred Conde said.
FCAT scores are used to evaluate schools and teachers, and to reward those that are improving or high-performing. Student performance on the test can determine whether they will move to the next grade level or graduate. It is also set to be linked to teacher pay.
District administrators have said the changes made this year by the state Board of Education could lead to an initial decline in school grades and, potentially, the district’s A grade.
Among this year’s changes:
Students will have to score higher in FCAT science, writing and end-of-course geometry and biology exams to pass. The writing exam was administered to students earlier this year and those changes are expected to be the most difficult for students here, who scored at or above state levels on the science and math tests last year.
Freshmen are now required to pass the biology, geometry and algebra 1 end-of-course exams to graduate, which could initially lower graduation rates.
A school will drop a letter grade if fewer than 25 percent of its students score a 3 or higher on FCAT reading.
Schools where the lowest 25 percent of students do not make adequate progress will go down a letter grade.
High school students are taking a U.S. history end-of-course exam for the first time, though it is not being included in grades until next year.
A temporary safeguard that prevented schools from dropping more than one letter is no longer in effect.
Beth Thompson, who recently retired as Collier County’s chief instructional officer, said earlier this year that while the revisions present a challenge to the district’s high grade, the teachers and students are up for it.
“I really think with the hard work that our teachers and administrators are doing, I think we can pull this off again,” she said during a January board update.
Changes to the FCAT, which has been used to assess teaching and learning in Florida since 1999, are common. There are fewer revisions this year than last year, when the state made more in a single year than it had in an entire decade.
Last year’s tweaks resulted in widespread criticism and a drop in grades across Florida. Collier County was one of few districts to see its share of A schools increase; it was alone in seeing its district score jump. Neighboring Lee County saw its A grade fall to a B.
One of last year’s revisions, which toughened standards on the writing exam, led to only 27 percent of students passing the test. As a result, state officials called an emergency meeting and lowered the passage rate.
Still, adjustments to the state’s evaluation model will continue. This week, the state Board of Education is slated to consider revising the definition of graduates to include only those who have received a standard diploma. Next year, scores in U.S. history and civics end-of-course exams will be factored into grades.
And the FCAT will ultimately be phased out and replaced by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC for short. The PARCC standardized tests, which are being implemented in 23 states and are tied to the Common Core Standards, will be fully implemented during the 2014-15 school year.
Those tests are still being developed. Conde said he expects they will provide a better picture of student performance.
“That’s going to be a better measure of what actually happens,” he said.