The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test has been criticized since its initial implementation in 1998 as a means to raise student achievement by raising educational standards. In 2010-11, the state of Florida responded to criticism and low test scores by by revising the test from the FCAT Classic to FCAT 2.0, but the move has only stimulated more controversy with regard to placing test pressures on teachers and the political doctoring of scores.
Teaching to the Test
Because Florida schools get graded based on their students' performance on the FCAT, and consequently receive more or less funding, test critics argue that test preparation has been taking an unacceptable amount of class time. According to Jamie Stephens of the University of Miami, teachers spend most of their time on one of three activities: teaching math and reading, taking assessments and teaching FCAT test-taking strategies. The website of Jacksonville-based Whitehouse Elementary School, however, claims that FCAT preparation takes less than 1 percent of total class time during the school year. Clearly, a dissonance exists in what is being told to the public.
Pressure on Teachers and Students
With the 2010-11 revision of the FCAT Classic into the FCAT 2.0 and the adoption of the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards, the stakes were raised for both students and teachers. Students can now be placed into remedial courses based upon poor FCAT performance, despite their pre-existing grades. Furthermore, teachers can lose their jobs if their students don't perform well enough. For example, a French teacher at Hialeah High School told NPR's State Impact that 50 percent of her assessment is based upon how well her students perform on the FCAT. What is most troubling about this is that she teaches French, and half of her evaluation is based on how her students perform in subjects other than the one she teaches.
Questionable Scoring Practices
When the state of Florida released the results of the 2012 FCAT 2.0, they also released a revised scoring of the 2011 FCAT Classic. Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson asserted that the 2011 scores were revised according to the new 2.0 scale as a way to make scores more accurate. Critics claim this was a political manipulation to raise 2011 scores, and with them the grades of the individual schools. Then, after the 2012 results showed that only 27 percent of fourth graders passed the test, Florida answered by simply lowering the passing standard, which sparked even more controversy. Unfortunately, there is no way for the public to know with certainty whether or not Robinson's statement about the score revisions was true. Robinson, however, resigned two months later.
Love Loss for Learning
With so much pressure placed upon students to achieve high test scores, the amount of test preparation that students are forced to endure can discourage students from wanting to learn. Stephanie Blum, who has taught for 22 years in the Miami-Dade County Public School System, says her students "aren't as eager to learn," and that the each week the school tells teachers what to teach as a means to prepare for the test, which stifles both teacher and student creativity.