FCAT Emergency Meeting: All About Nuthin’
At an emergency meeting on Sunday, Florida Education Commissioner Gerald Robinson fielded a range of questions in hopes of easing parents and students’ concerns over the falling FCAT scores.
Robinson, in brief opening remarks, took pains to explain how the more rigorous process was arrived at, pointing to the importance of assessing students. He said it came as no surprise that, in some instances, scores would in fact decline.
“When you look at the history, with an increase in the level of rigor for achievement standards in Florida, there has been a decrease in scores,” Robinson said. “We could have done a better job in communicating the change, indicating there would be more rigor.”
But, notwithstanding Robinson’s explanation that the quality of writing produced by students was actually higher than last year, parents still expressed their unhappiness over FCAT.
One parent noted that her 10th grade daughter is an exceptional student, yet this year fell three points short of the cut off in FCAT reading and will have to spend at least a semester taking remedial classes. She expressed her frustration over what she termed the “punitive nature of FCAT” and how it penalizes students.
In response, Robinson said, while the 10th grader is a strong student, she is not a good test taker.
“The writing exam is a lot harder,” he said. “It doesn’t mean she is less bright. The standards have been raised.”
Several parents and teachers questioned the FCAT overall, pointing out that it is not a true indicator for student learning. They called on Robinson to find ways to improve the FCAT process, noting that teachers are teaching to the test. Some said the FCAT didn’t have a lot to do with standards, but to do with how to find the right answers.
But Robinson maintained that the test is strong and valid and won’t be thrown out.
“FCAT is linked to the next generation of Sunshine Standards,” he said. “It prepares and predicts where we want our students to go. It is not a tool for punishment. It is a tool for assessment.”
Asked directly about the state’s plans for properly funding public education, particularly in poor and impoverished areas, and restoring per student funding levels to 2007, Robinson pointed out that this year’s per student funding is $150 higher than the previous year.
He couldn’t say when 2007 funding levels would be restored, as that year was a “high mark for funding” before the economy went into recession. “We don’t know when we will go there,” he said.
Robinson debunked the notion that there is any correlation between the drop in scores and teacher evaluation systems. He said there is no one teacher evaluation system and school districts were being allowed to choose their own. However, there will come a point where there will be a state model, he said.
Tezlyn Figueroa, former candidate for state representative District 46, expressed her frustration over the inadequate public education students were receiving in Florida, underscoring its direct link to poverty and male incarceration.
“There are no clear directions in Orlando as to how people can get involved and stop dying in the streets,” said Figueroa, clearly exasperated. “… Again, we are not better off than the last generation; we have more black men in prison now than when we were enslaved. That’s not better.”
Robinson disagreed. He pointed out that the current generation is better off than previous ones. As one example, he noted that, more men are in college today than in prisons. However, he did concede that, too many men are currently in prison.
The emergency meeting was convened by State Senator Gary Siplin (D-Orlando), at the Evans High School, and attended by about 50 people.