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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

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Fcatwriting2006 In case you've missed it (hard to do with reporters' obsessions these days), FCAT testing begins Tuesday. It's an anniversary for the exam, its 10th year of assessing - some might say harassing - Florida's schools and students. Opinions run strong on the FCAT. You love it or hate it.

But what do you know about it?

Even some of our own editors weren't aware that Jeb Bush was not the governor when the test debuted.

So reporter Ron Matus pulled together a 10-question multiple choice quiz on the FCAT for you to challenge your own FCAT knowledge. (Yes, we linked to this in the news roundup, but it's so much fun, we decided to pull it out for special attention.)

If you want to check it out, read on. And let us know how you did.

1. Who was the governor of Florida when the FCAT was first administered?

A. Sidney J. Catts

B. Bob Martinez

C. Lawton Chiles

D. Jeb Bush

2. Who makes the FCAT?

A. Department of Education

B. A testing company

C. Teachers

D. All of the above

3. Who grades the FCAT?

A. Teachers

B. A testing company

C. Department of Education

D. Janitors and video-store clerks

4. What does the FCAT test?

A. Reading, writing, math and science

B. Reading and math only

C. Test-taking skills

D. Sunshine State Standards

5. How much does the FCAT cost taxpayers annually?

A. About $4-million

B. About $40-million

C. About $100-million

D. About $400-million

6. Why can't parents see their kids' FCAT tests after they have been scored?

A. The test includes items that are being field-tested for future use

B. Some questions are used again

C. Both A and B

D. Neither A nor B

7. What are the high-stakes consequences of the FCAT?

A. School grades

B. Retention or promotion of third-graders to fourth grade

C. High school graduation

D. All of the above

8. What went wrong with the 2006 FCAT?

A. It was deliberately made too easy.

B. "Anchor" questions were misplaced.

C. Scoring machines malfunctioned.

D. Test booklets contained printing errors.

9. How can we tell if the FCAT is a good measure of learning?

A. It has a gold-star rating.

B. The results correlate well with other tests.

C. The Legislature supports it.

D. All of the above.

10. Essay question: Will the FCAT go away anytime soon? Explain why or why not.

 

Answers:

1. Who was the governor of Florida when the FCAT was first administered?

The answer is C. The FCAT in writing was first administered in 1992 it was called Florida Writes then, while the FCAT in reading and math were first administered in January 1998. Gov. Lawton Chiles served from 1991 to 1998.

Gov. Jeb Bush, who began serving in 1999, is most identified with FCAT, and he upped the stakes for it. The 1999 Legislature passed Bush's A+ Plan, which required that schools be graded by FCAT scores.

2. Who makes the FCAT?

The answer is D. The state hired testing company Harcourt Assessment, which was bought by another company, Pearson, in January, to write the first draft of questions. Each question is reviewed by a number of committees, appointed by the Department of Education, that include teachers and curriculum supervisors. They make sure the questions are accurate, sensitive and unbiased. According to the Department of Education, more than 600 teachers, administrators and citizens help develop the FCAT every year.

3. Who grades the FCAT?

The answer is B. Testing company CTB/McGraw Hill administers, scores and reports the FCAT but doesn't make it. But D would have been a partially correct answer two years ago.

The answer sheets are scanned by machines. The essays and short-answer questions are graded by temporary workers.

Two years ago, a lawsuit filed by Democratic lawmakers led to revelations that many workers hired to grade tests did not have bachelor's degrees or expertise in the areas they were grading, as required by the Department of Education contract.

Newspaper reports said a janitor and video-store clerk were among them. Then-Education Commissioner John Winn said despite the foulup, the checks and balances put in place for grading - for example, each item is scored independently by at least two different workers - meant the tests were still graded accurately.

4. What does the FCAT test?

Trick question! The correct answers are A and D.

Currently, students in grades 3-10 take the FCAT in math and reading every year. Students in grades 5, 8 and 11 take the FCAT in science. Students in grades 4, 8 and 10 take the FCAT in writing.

The tests are tied to Sunshine State Standards, which are what the state has determined students should know in different academic subjects.

5. How much does the FCAT cost taxpayers annually?

The answer is B. Since 2002, the annual cost for developing, administering, scoring and reporting the FCAT has ranged from $38-million to $44-million.

6. Why can't parents see their kids' FCAT tests after they have been scored?

The answer is C. The FCAT includes some questions that are being field-tested to determine if they will be used in the future. It also includes "anchor" questions that are used on tests for several years to ensure that the test's level of difficulty is consistent from year to year. If parents and students saw those questions, they couldn't be used again, Department of Education officials say.

7. What are the high-stakes consequences of the FCAT?

The answer is D, all of the above. But there's more.

FCAT scores also figure into the formula that federal officials use to determine whether schools are meeting the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. And for some teachers, FCAT scores factor into whether they'll get bonuses under the state's performance-pay plan.

8. What went wrong with the 2006 FCAT?

The answer is B. The fact that the 2006 third-grade reading test was botched became apparent last year, after 2007 results showed the next cohort of third-graders had mysteriously taken a historic dive in performance. The Education Department found that the 2007 scores weren't the problem; it was the 2006 scores, which had shown a historic spike.

The department concluded the problem was a one-time mistake, due to the accidental misplacement of "anchor" questions that ensure the FCAT difficulty level is consistent from year to year.

In the aftermath, the department named an advisory committee of district officials and testing experts, which in turn decided to hire the Buros Center for Testing at the University of Nebraska to conduct an independent review. The center said in a report released in December that the department was right.

9. How can we tell if the FCAT is a good measure of learning?

The answer is B. One way to see if Florida students really are getting smarter, as rising FCAT scores suggest, is to look at how they're doing on other tests they don't prepare for.

On the National Assessment of Educational Progress test, which is called "the nation's report card" and considered by many experts to be the gold standard for standardized tests, Florida students have made big gains in recent years. In reading, for example, 53 percent of Florida fourth-graders scored at basic or above on the NAEP in 1998. In 2007, 70 percent did.

The FCAT also includes portions of another test that measures how well Florida students are doing nationally. And it, too, shows big gains. In 2001, for example, the average Florida seventh-grader scored as well as 61 percent of his peers nationally in math. In 2007, he did as well as 73 percent nationally.

10. Will the FCAT go away anytime soon?

Probably not. But it will continue to evolve.

As the state's academic standards change, the FCAT will change. For example, in coming years the science FCAT will be adjusted to reflect the new science standards adopted by the Board of Education last month.

The Legislature is considering an FCAT in social studies. And education leaders are looking at the possibility of end-of-course exams, a type of standardized test that would correlate better with the classes that high school students take. Some observers say it's possible end-of-course exams could replace the FCAT in high school.

(Image from Alachua County school district)

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 9:36am]

    

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