by Christine Edwards

The New Standard for Florida Students

FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) used to be a term that fired up Floridian students and teachers to hit the books hard. The 2014-2015 school year bids farewell to the FCAT and welcomes a new assessment that challenges students with a higher level of rigor in a markedly different format. In a press release issued in March of 2014, the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) stated that the new standards and assessments were a necessary departure from the national PARCC Consortium. This move ensured “a specifically designed” test that would meet “Florida’s needs without federal intervention.”

Screen-Shot-2015-02-26-at-3.51.32-PMThe new tests assess students on the Florida Standards, which replaced the Common Core State Standards in Math and English Language Arts (ELA) this year. The new standards differ from Common Core, but not radically.

The Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) is so new that critical information, such as how the test will be scored, remains unknown. Dr. Karen Schafer, director of accountability and testing at Brevard Public Schools, recognizes the challenges Space Coast teachers and children face. “There is a tremendous learning curve for all of us with this new testing system.”

Many of the new assessments and standards defy traditional paper and pencil memorization style tests and challenge students to demonstrate abilities to apply learned concepts and then show their work on computers. Tech savvy has become essential for Floridian students, as they now must demonstrate computer proficiency to pass their annual standardized assessments.

The FDOE has adopted a plan for rapid integration of computer based testing in Florida in lieu of the paper-based assessments currently taken by students in certain grades in particular subjects across the state. All math and ELA test components will be administered online come the 2017-2018 school year. Brevard County testing coordinators have been attending trainings to become proficient in administering the assessments so that they can train and prepare test administrators by the spring.

Testing will begin in March when 4th through 11th grade students take the writing component of the FSA. In prior years, only 4th, 8th, and 10th grade students sat for writing assessments, but many students will take additional tests this year. In fact, in recent years, 11th grade students did not take state-standardized tests, but they will sit for two this April, when all components of the FSA (aside from writing) are administered.

Some holdovers from FCAT will remain until all portions of the FSA are available. This year’s science tests for the 5th and 8th grades will be FCAT versions based on the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards (NGSSS).

Sections of the FSA introduce new skills assessments. The ELA component has

listening sections, which require students to listen to audio recordings and answer comprehension questions based on what they heard. For the writing assessment, students read a series of passages and type informative or opinion based responses, depending on their prompts. Students are encouraged to supply text-based evidence within their written responses, because citing text evidence is one of the major pushes in the ELA standards.

The FSA offer many interactive features that assess students not only on their surface level understandings of concepts, but also on their abilities to apply their knowledge to solve problems. The ELA assessments task students to perform line edits, type short answers, and respond to multimedia presentations using the computer. The math assessments direct students to graph lines, assemble graphs, and create formulas. Students must also organize items by using computer mice to click and drag them into patterns or fill graphs. For the computer based writing assessments, students  will submit typewritten essays based on selected reading passages.

The FSA will demonstrate students’ abilities to apply the skills they have been taught inside classrooms in ways one couldn’t even imagine a couple of decades ago. In the midst of many uncertainties, one fact remains: computer literacy is a must for Florida students. According to the FDOE, “The new standards and assessments will enable students to be prepared for a technical post-secondary education, college and the competitive national and global workforce of today.”

New features will push students and challenge them to give their all. This year’s third grade students will not only be taking their first state level assessment, but will also be the youngest of the first class of Floridian students to ever take the FSA. And they will be tasked to provide short answer responses to questions, just like all other grade levels.

This is a baseline year, which often results in diminished test scores across the board. Lower scores are expected given that this is a brand new test, format, and based on recently introduced standards.

Educators, parents, and students can familiarize themselves with the FSA’s format and verbiage by taking training tests on the FSA website: FSAassessments.org. Sample rubrics for the writing component and in-depth information about the assessment’s release are also available. 

The website has proven essential to many educators because it fills in knowledge gaps about the overall transition and changes that will affect test administration this spring. “One of the best and most comprehensive resources for students, parents, teachers, schools, districts, and the general public is the FSA online portal,” Dr. Schafer said.

The new Florida Standards are also available online at CPALMS: CPalms.org. The site boasts free downloadable lesson plans, games, and activities that target the Florida Standards along with other helpful information and resources.

Family support of education may be more important now than ever given that students are taking a new assessment based on new standards. Preparation for the test may have commenced back in August, but making it to the finish line will require support at school and on the home front. Dr. Schafer believes that when parents, schools, and teachers work together, they provide the best education possible for students. She recommends the following article to parents who want to know more about supporting students at home: ColorinColorado.org/families/school/helpyourkids/

Parents can show support in myriad ways, to include ensuring their test takers get enough sleep. Children require more sleep than adults and test better on 8.5 hours of good shuteye. Nutritious breakfasts keep students alert and focused on test days. Grumbling tummies tend to become unwelcome distractions during tests.

Climate control is out of most parents’ reach. That doesn’t mean they can’t help their students prepare for temperature anomalies like broken AC units that are working too hard or not at all. Often, assessments are given in computer labs or designated classrooms, which means students could test in unfamiliar spaces that are colder or hotter than regularly attended classrooms. Remind children to dress in layers so that they can be comfortable while testing.

Classrooms are already fast paced environments. Incorporation of new standards and test vocabularies in time for students to be aptly prepared for their end of year assessments requires planning and ingenuity in droves. The FDOE stated that they’ve been preparing the Florida Standards and Florida Standards Assessments for over three years to assist schools, teachers and students with the transition. Our community of educators will be successful if they continue to use research proven methods to prepare students to tackle problems in innovative and practical ways. Space Coast educators and students appear up for the challenge. As test time approaches, they are hitting the books hard so that our children will undoubtedly be prepared for their first encounters with the FSA.

Eight Online Educational Resources for Students and Families

1. This site offers training tests to familiarize students, parents, and educators with the FSA’s format: FSA Website: FSAassessments.org Florida Standards: FLStandards.org

2. Your children expand their vocabulary banks and feed hungry people all over the world by playing this fun game: Free Rice: FreeRice.org

3These websites are for the FCAT, but still provide great learning opportunities. Your children should already have been issued passwords at school: Florida Achieves: Florida-Achieves.com

4. This site offers many resources and interactive games: Nat Geo for kids: Kids.NationalGeographic.com

5. Kids learn with their favorite television characters on the PBS website: PBS for kids: PbsKids.org

6. Check with your children’s school to see if they have a license to access this site with loads of resources on every academic subject and more: Brain Pop: BrainPop.com

7. Your children wouldn’t believe this is an educational website: Fun Brain: FunBrain.com

8. These games are fun to play, which helps children forget that they are learning math skills: Cool Math: CoolMath.com 

This article appears in the March 2015 issue of SpaceCoast Living.
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