Phasing Out the FCAT Takes a Step Forward
Florida high schools could start phasing out the FCAT, the yearly standardized exam given in public schools, under legislation approved by a panel of lawmakers Wednesday.
The House Pre-K-12 Policy Committee introduced several changes for the state's educational structure, including upping the course requirements students need to graduate while also eliminating the FCAT math exam for students in grades 9 and 10 and the FCAT high school science exam.
“Everyone agrees that a quality education is a core component of the success and economic future of our children and state,” the committee’s chairman, Rep. John Legg, said in a statement after the panel voted 13-1 in favor of the legislation. “That means putting a greater emphasis on the basic building blocks of a successful education.”
Specifically, the proposal requires all students to take geometry and algebra II as two of four math credits, and biology and chemistry or physics for two of three science credits needed for graduation. It also requires that end-of-course exams be administered in algebra I, geometry and biology.
The new requirements would begin with students entering grade 9 in 2011 and students would be required to pass the new exam to pass the course and move to the next grade. Meanwhile, the state Department of Education would be required to develop exams and an implementation schedule for end-of-course assessments in language arts, algebra II, chemistry, physics, earth and space science, U.S. history and world history.
The cost of the change can’t yet be determined, staff said. There will be some costs associated with transitioning from the FCAT to the end-of-course exam, but ultimately, the department hopes to administer the exams on computers, which could save money over time.
The plan was largely supported by education interest groups such as the Association of District School Superintendents and the Florida Student Association, which represents the state's college and university students.
According to a legislative staff analysis, the American Diploma Project found that 55 percent of all students entering Florida's public postsecondary institutions require remediation in math, reading and writing. In 2005-2006, the total costs to colleges and universities for remediation was $129.8 million with the state paying half of this.
“We spend far too much money teaching students what they should have learned in 11th and 12th grade,” said Nicholas Autiello, legislative director for the Florida Student Association.
Only one lawmaker, Rep. Elaine Schwartz, D-Hollywood, voted against the legislation, saying she just couldn't support a proposal that puts so much emphasis on an exam in order to pass a course.
Her own daughter, Schwartz said, had difficulty with standardized test, but ultimately earned her Ph.D in psychology. She added that she doesn't believe other students should be held back because they can’t pass a standardized test.
“She would have not been able to finish high school,” Schwartz said. ”And she is absolutely in a wonderful career, exactly where she should be.”