Danna Contreras doesn’t like the new FCAT.
The sophomore at Booker T. Washington High School in Miami emigrated from Colombia three years ago.
She wears thick, pink-rimmed glasses and she squints a lot. She says the new computerized version is harder to take.
“I think I am better with paper, not on the computer because sometimes my eyes hurt,” she said.
That’s not the only reason she’s worried about her reading score.
“I have difficulty speaking English and the vocabulary is really hard,” she said.
Students are taking a new, harder version of the FCAT this year, called FCAT 2.0.
The test is supposed to be harder to pass and the stakes are higher than ever.
From now on, FCAT results will help determine whether teachers keep their jobs.
Contreras is an honors student. But she says her performance in class doesn’t matter anymore.
“Because you can be an A student the whole year, but if you don’t pass the FCAT they make you take easy classes,” she said.
FCAT results determine whether students go into remedial courses, called “intensives,” or honors classes.
She says it seems like flawed logic.
“To everybody they give the same test. And I think if they give you more easy classes they don’t want you to expand your mind,” she said.
More Students Are Expected to Fail
More students are expected to fail the FCAT this year because Florida has raised its academic standards.
Sharon Koon with the Florida Department of Education says the FCAT 2.0 requires students to remember more material they learned in earlier grades.
For example, if the math concepts mean, median and mode are taught in 6th grade, Koon says, “We would expect that students are able to solve problems related to those concepts in 7th grade without formulas being given.”
The FCAT was first introduced in 1997 to academic standards created in 1996.
Florida has just updated its standards — now called the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards.
“And every time you adopt new standards you do have to change your assessments,” Koon said.
The contractor Pearson is being paid $254 million over four years to develop and administer the new FCAT.
The new test isn’t just important to students. Starting now, FCAT results will help determine whether teachers keep their jobs.
Jennifer Smith is a French teacher at Hialeah High School in Miami-Dade County.
Fifty percent of her evaluation will be based on the school’s FCAT score in reading.
“And I’m a French teacher, not an English teacher or a reading teacher,” she said.
Smith says most teachers will have half their score come from FCAT subjects they have no influence over.
In many cases, teachers are being evaluated on students they don’t teach.
Students who pass the FCAT as sophomores don’t have to take the exam anymore.
“And if you only teach 11th graders or 12th graders, your evaluation is based on the reading scores on the ninth and tenth graders,” Smith said, “students who are not even your students.”
If reading scores are low for two out of three years new teachers will be brought in.
Smith says schools in low income communities, like hers, will get penalized for low grades teachers can’t always control.
“School is not always the first priority and in a lot of cases it’s not always the parent’s priority either,” Smith said.
“Sometimes, they’re so busy trying to find a job or working 2 or 3 jobs to keep the lights on and unfortunately that trumps homework.”
By 2015 school reading scores will also help determine how much teachers get paid.
Student Dana Contreras says that puts too much pressure on students.
“What happens if that day you broke up with a boyfriend and you want to cry and you don’t want to see the test,” she said.
Ezekiel Harris, a sixth grader student at Jose de Diego Middle School inMiamiis already feeling the pressure from his school.
“They say that the test is more important than your school work,” he said.
He said his results will tell him if he’ll get into “the smart classes.”
There’s even been a small movement by parents who are pulling their children out of school during FCAT testing.
Linda Kobert is a mom of a freshman in Orlando. She says pulling her child out of testing is “something we’re considering.”
“It’s become the measure of whether a child will advance a grade, graduate high school and I have issues with what we’re doing to teachers.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Colombia.
This story is part of WLRN’s StateImpact Florida education reporting project, which examines the effect of stat policies on the lives of students, educators and parents in our community.