Take Note FL Governor Candidates: A Father's Musings on Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT)

I have had an epiphany with regards to FCAT.  After much thought and watching my son having to take this test for the past five years I have come to the conclusion  the way FCAT is administered is overkill for our students, for our teachers and for our budget.  Don’t get me wrong, we need metrics to see where we need to improve, but we need to do it smarter and cheaper.

The reason I am concerned about this is that I am a father of a son and he attends public school in Okaloosa County in Florida.  My wife and I are lucky. Okaloosa County, while not one of the most densely or urbanized counties in Florida, has one of the better public school systems in the state. But make no mistake, we as a state and as a country as a whole, are going to have to spend less money on our schools.  We are bankrupt as country and the free ride is over.  Cost saving measures are no longer an “if” scenario, it is a “when” and “how”.

I propose the first sacred cow to go is the way we administer FCAT.  Every year, every school in Florida abandons their curriculum for two (or more) weeks and cram for a standardized test.  This puts pressure on students and teachers (whose fate hinges on how well their students perform).  This is a sheer waste of time for my son, who is a smart kid and who is, according to Florida, “Gifted” (except when it comes to picking up after himself).  It is a waste of my taxes, my son’s time and my son’s teachers time for them to waste two weeks cramming for and a week taking the FCAT every year.  My son also hangs out with other kids as bright as he is and guess what, I’m pissed that my tax money is going to support a test that just interrupts these kids studies as well.  It is a waste of time, money and damn expensive.

This is not to say that we do not need to test to see how well our schools are doing, but what it means is that we need to statistically “sample” our schools for performance (let a statistician figure out how many schools need to be tested to give a valid sample of how our schools are doing).  I suggest we break the state up into 4 sections (by county), even out the 4 sections population wise and then, sample once a year the full spectrum of grades on Reading, Math and Science.  The FCAT folks then administer a NO NOTICE test to the selected schools from each section. (Randomly selected by a computer).  I say we are looking at impacting 10% or less of our schools to get a good snapshot of where our schools stand at teaching the basics.  Once a school is chosen and tested, it is out of the test loop for 4-5 years in their section and then are thrown back in the “test” pool.

The trick here is not to make ANYONE’s job dependent on the test, other than the elected School boards and superintendents (as it should be).  Also, you take the fear out of the test by giving the selected schools that were sampled  a grant of money to be spent on infrastructure and/or hardware.  Above all, we scale back dramatically the amount of money we spend on FCAT.

From the annual results teachers, school boards and superintendents statewide will be able to see what areas need improvement, etc.  We make FCAT a tool for improvement, not a bludgeon on our students.  And, we save a lot of money, both measured in student/teacher time and administration costs.

This is just a rough idea.  I am sure it can be improved on..but the core idea: taking a statistical sample vice making FCAT Statewide is valid in concept.  It is either that, or dump it altogether.  We cannot afford this luxury, as it is currently implemented, stand.

I fully expect our Governor candidates to address the shrinking school budgets, both in the primaries and the general election.  I strongly suspect the one with the better ideas to improve  schools in the era of shrinking budgets will get a major boost (and votes) from concerned parents.

Feedback from educators and parents welcome.  Post your ideas and let me know where I’m right or wrong….

My next blog on Florida Schools will be on the way we teach Foreign Languages and it’s undue impact getting selected for the State University System on students.