The End of Florida’s FCAT Brings Big Changes and Obstacles To Escambia County Schools

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The End of Florida’s FCAT Brings Big Changes and Obstacles To Escambia County Schools
By: Kelly Woodard

Teachers, parents, and students breathe a sigh of relief as this week marks the last time state students will take the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, known as the FCAT. The test, which by this time next year will be replaced by a new Common Core-aligned assessment, has been the topic of controversy for years.
The Florida Commission on Education Reform and Accountability under Gov. Lawton Chiles gave birth to the test in 1995. It was part of a series of recommendations that were meant to give local districts more control and a better sense of how their schools were doing. FCAT scores were then tallied ultimately giving each school a grade, A-F. The “grade” each school was given factored into funding, student advancement and whether a school required intervention.
So what’s next in the classroom?
The non-profit American Institutes for Research was chosen to design the new test. It’s still in development, which is a huge concern for teachers and superintendents.
Escambia County teacher Susan Hill said, "We're setting both teachers and students up for failure when we don't have the standards written and the end of course exams that teachers are going to have to be implementing next year don’t even exist yet."
That being said, the new test is meant to be a better, more-comprehensive assessment. In both language arts and math, students are to take a series of exams with the scores combined into one final mark for each subject. In addition, students will now be taken these tests on computers rather than paper test packets allowing for speedier test results, cheaper printing costs, and the end of the hassle and security risk of collecting tests from more than 80 public schools in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.
However, Escambia County Schools Superintendent Malcolm Thomas believes this new technology could cause bigger problems for our area schools. “We are going to need far more computers in every school to make the new testing efficient. Unfortunately, Escambia county just doesn’t have the funding to keep up with the demand,” Thomas said.
Thomas went on to say, “Our hope is that we are able to find the funding, supply the students and teachers with the equipment they need, and get this technology in our classrooms because our students need real world application. They need to know how to use advanced technology to become relevant in the future workforce.”
There is no word yet on any future plans to up the budget for technology in Escambia County schools, but Hill remains optimistic. “Although I’m not sure where the money will come from or how we are going to handle the changes, I think that the school board has the right attitude. Our kids need to learn not only what is on these tests, but how to adjust to a new way of testing and the use of new technology.”