What is a high-stakes test?
FCAT is a high-stakes test. It is a single, defined assessment that draws a clear line between those who pass and those who fail and delivers direct consequences to students, teachers and schools. A “high-stakes system” benefits people other than the test-taker. The purpose of the test is to protect the public from incompetent teachers. In this system student test scores affect others beyond the individual test-taker.
“High-stakes” does not refer to the test itself, but rather the consequences placed on the outcome. In gambling, the “stake” is the money or goods risked on the outcome of the game. In 2001, No Child Left Behind tied school funding, ratings and a child’s chances of moving forward in school to test scores. It thrusts test takers who must pass the exam to “win” into stress, uncertainty, potential loss while allowing no way of obtaining the goal through other means.
Florida third graders, who fail FCAT are held back and labeled failures in the eyes of the state regardless grade point average. Failure impacts the entire system. Serious consequences for schools include loss of funding, accreditation, lowering of overall school grade, changes to school management and teachers face loss of pay and dismissal.
Although test scores might improve when teachers spoon-feed students a steady diet of test prep review, the long term consequences are concerning. Professional educators faced with high-stakes consequences are robbed of the chance to practice the art of teaching leaving students deprived of acquiring the deep understanding of full, broad curriculum needed to compete in college.
The high-stakes FCAT has caused teachers and principals strive to put most of their efforts into reading, writing and math. The curriculum has been severely narrowed. Nearly every Florida school has reduced instruction time in subjects such as history, arts, language and music, in order to give more time and resources to mathematics and English.
FCAT is a criterion referenced test. It is measured against itself and does not allow Florida’s children to be compared against the performances of their peers across the nation. As part of the reform effort, Florida stopped paying for the Stanford Test, the only norm-referenced test Florida’s children took. This eliminated the chance to ever making a true “apples to apples” comparison with children in other states.
The FCAT is often inflated by the state. For example:
- FCAT READING: 54% on level
- NAEP: 32% on level
- FCAT MATH: 66% on level
- NAEP: 29% on level Source: Florida 8th Grade Proficiency as measured by Florida State Tests and NAEP for SY 2008-09.