For close to five years, Florida lawmakers and education leaders have explored the possibility of replacing high-school-level FCAT testing with end-of-course exams linked to classes that students have just completed. This year, the Legislature appears ready to put the concept into law. State Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, chairman of the House Pre-K-12 Policy Committee, spoke with the Times recently about the initiative.
Where did this start?
We've been working on this for a good five years on the House side, and actually in a partnership with some of our former House members who are now in the Senate — Sen. (Dan) Gelber, Sen. (Don) Gaetz. We went up to New York to see the Regents (Exams) model. What many of us believe, especially me, is that the end-of-course exams are more in line with what we're measuring and, as many folks have said, (are) more evolutionary. It's the next level of accountability that is more reflective of the student learning.
So we would be getting rid of the high school FCAT?
In phases. … Math would be the first year. The second year would be Biology I, and then, eventually, reading would be replaced by the language arts —all over a period of the next four years. But beginning next year, we would do an Algebra I (end-of-course exam), and the year after that, I believe a geometry component, and then a Biology I component. I have to look at my exact charts.
How does this differ from the idea that Gelber and (Rep. Dwight) Bullard rolled out a few weeks ago?
Well, we've been in conversation with Bullard all along on this issue, and he's known what we've been doing on this. So I was a little surprised he rolled out his bill, knowing what we've been working on. I feel as though the Democratic caucus is in line with most points on this issue with what we've been working on.
What do you think the practical effect will be for students?
I believe it will be a greater transition in accountability when it comes to their course work. We have students who may be taking Algebra I in the eighth grade but not taking the FCAT until 10th grade. Now, as soon as they're done with the class, they'll take the end-of-course exam to demonstrate competency, and if they pass it, they can move on.
One thing I want to make clear: If they don't pass it, they can still get an incomplete and do some tutoring and retake just the end-of-course exam. Now, that's going to be dependent upon the teacher working with the student. However, the teacher may recommend that they take the whole course over because they haven't demonstrated mastery. Maybe they did have a bad test day, and they can retake the end-of-course exam. That was built into the bill. That was one of the chief criticisms of the FCAT, is that it's test heavy. This is still accountability, but it gives some discretion to the teacher. …
What do you make of what (some principals) are saying about making sure there are some formative assessments along the way, maybe even a pretest, so that you know they're actually making gains?
There's nothing preventing the schools from implementing that at this point. As a state, I've learned, we've got to go slow, take bite-sized pieces. One of the big things that most folks are advocating for is that the FCAT at the 10th-grade level have a better mechanism. And I believe this is a better mechanism.
What do you rate the chances of passage to the Governor's office?
I'm cautiously optimistic. The Senate president has been working with us every step of the way. He's taking the lead on this. So we're yielding on timing on some issues. We've got a very willing partner in the Senate this year.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.