Preliminary FCAT scores are in and they show Florida third graders making slight improvements in math and reading, but critics question whether the state is making the test easier to bump up scores in an election year.
43,000 Florida third graders failed the FCAT in 2003. This year two-thirds of them scored at level 3 or above, up three percentage points from last year. Supporters of the controversial test say the results show Florida's doing a better job of educating its kids.
Rep. Bev Kilmer, (R) Marianna, says, “The teachers, the parents, the administration have all come together to make sure the children have the opportunity to advance and get educated and the children are excited.”
But there are plenty of critics who question whether the state deliberately made the test easier this year so it wouldn't have mass failings in an election year.
“They want the state to be calm, the parents, the children, the advocates, and it won't be calm if thousands of children don't receive diplomas or if thousands of third graders are retained,” says Sen. Frederica Wilson, (D) Miami, FL.
Democratic lawmakers have asked for a side-by-side comparison to see whether the tests were "dumbed down."
Sen. Ron Klein, Florida Senate Minority Leader, says, “If the credibility of the test is being questioned and we don't have an independent verification, which is what we've been asking for as to making sure the test is the same from year to year, then I think the public loses confidence.”
Whether the FCAT was easier or not, one in ten high school seniors still may not receive their diplomas this year because they couldn't pass. Florida Teacher's Union spokesman Mark Pudlow says the numbers show hinging a child's future all on one test still isn't fair.
“I think there's still an awful lot of pressure on students and on teachers to do well on this one single snapshot,” Pudlow says.
But even the critics say they're proud of the students who are working hard to measure up.
A bill that would let parents or guardians see their child's FCAT questions and answers must still clear three more committees before getting a full Senate vote.
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