Some Polk County students are busy taking the very last Florida Comprehensive Tests to be given. Next year, they will face the new Florida Standards tests instead.
The FCAT tests have been in place since 1998, but the state Department of Education is replacing it with what has been called more rigorous and challenging.
“We haven’t seen the new Florida Standards tests yet,” says Jacqueline Bowen, Polk County Schools Director of K-12 Reading. “But we know they are based on the Common Core standards and we’ve been teaching that for the past three years.”
Bowen explained that the DOE recently-adopted standards are aligned with Common Core and stress more analytical thinking from students, rather than the straightforward questions answered by multiple choice in the FCATs.
The DOE explained the new testing: “The emphasis with these new standards is for children to think critically and analytically and go beyond memorization. The new standards will help children be prepared for success no matter what path they choose after graduation.”
Bowen said Polk students kindergarten through third graders have already been learning the Common Core methods and curriculum in language arts and reading.
“What the new tests will mean is that there isn’t just one right answer, but there is the best answer to select,” she said.
“The goal is to have children read a problem, comprehend its meaning and through analytic thinking, come up with the best answer,” she added. “It sounds more complicated than it really is.”
To make sure Polk students are learning what they need in order to keep pace with the new standards, Bowen said the district has and will beef up teacher training in the new methodologies and techniques the Florida Standards will require.
“We’ve already beefed up our coaching in the K-3 grades and will bring the rest of the grades up to par this summer with additional training for teachers and administrators,” she said.
Bowen said the District has known this was coming and started preparing teachers for it.
“We know people are fearful and concerned about the new standards,” she said. “But we’re doing all we can to let them know, their children are fine and will fare pretty well.”
Even though Bowen believes Polk’s students and teachers will do OK, she also said the district was prepared for some “performance results to drop” when the new tests are given next school year.
“That’s why we are giving the greatest support to our teachers,” she says. “We also know that our teachers and schools have been so test-driven, that teachers have been afraid to get out of the box. We’re ready to open that box now.”
Bowen added that teachers have been given curriculum guidelines that are on a par with Common Core so they have been apprised of what is expected. However, until the tests are actually seen, she added, “We really don’t know until we get there.”
Meanwhile, the DOE has told teachers that the “tests will provide a more authentic assessment of our students grasp of Florida Standards” and “will include more than multiple choice questions. Students will be asked to create graphs, interact with text content and write and respond in different ways than on traditional tests. New question types will assess students higher order thinking skills with higher expectations.”
The DOE says samples of new Florida Standard questions should be available for teachers to review this summer.
The state department also said the new assessments are the result of “unprecedented input from teachers, educators and the public.”
It added that the coming school year evaluations will set performance level expectations as a baseline and “provides parents, schools, districts and all Floridians with a clear understanding of a student’s and a school’s starting point on the new more rigorous standards and assessments.”
At the same time, according to the DOE, school districts will also continue to set their own performance standards for teachers using data from the new assessment to ensure continuity with the present year’s evaluations.