Testing in Florida: An Overview
A GreatSchools guide to standardized tests
By GreatSchools Staff
Although test results are only one measure of student achievement, they have become increasingly important in assessing student learning. In 2009-2010 Florida used the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) to track how well students are performing in core academic areas. Students are tested in grades 3 through 10 in reading and math; in grades 4, 8 and 10 in writing; and in grades 5, 8 and 11 in science. High school students must pass the grade 10 FCAT in order to graduate. The FCAT is standards-based, which means it measures specific skills defined for each grade by the state of Florida.
Based on the FCAT scores, schools receive grades ranging from A to F under the Florida School Grades program.
Although test results can be an indicator of what's happening in the classroom, they don't tell you everything about the quality of a school. Always look at more than one measure when judging school performance and visit in person before making any final determination.
The information provided on GreatSchools profiles is for the 2009-2010 school year.
Tests in Florida
The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT, pronounced "ef-cat") is a test given annually to all students in grades 3 through 11. The test is given to students in grades 3 through 10 in reading and math, and students in grades 5, 8 and 11 take the FCAT science test. A writing test is given to students in grades 4, 8 and 10. The FCAT is a criterion-referenced test (CRT) based on the Sunshine State Standards (SSS), which measures how well students are learning specific skills defined by the state. Through 2007-2008, the FCAT included a norm-referenced test (NRT), which measured how well students in Florida performed compared to their peers nationwide; however the FCAT NRT was discontinued in 2008-2009.
SSS: Sunshine State Standards
The Sunshine State Standards are Florida's state learning standards, which set expectations for student achievement. They are divided into eight subject areas: the arts, foreign languages, health, physical education, language arts, mathematics, science and social studies. Each of these standards is divided into grade clusters (pre K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12), giving school districts some flexibility in designing curriculum. As Florida strives for more accountability, the Sunshine State Standards for the subject areas of language arts, mathematics, science and social studies have been further refined into specific grade-level expectations. Part of the FCAT measures achievement of the standards in language arts, mathematics, science and social studies.
When is the FCAT given?
The FCAT is given during February and March. It is given early so that scores can be returned before the end of the school year.
What types of questions are on the FCAT?
The FCAT includes multiple-choice, gridded-response (fill in the blanks) and performance tasks (such as essays). The multiple-choice and gridded-response questions are machine scored. Each performance-task test is scored by two trained readers.
You can see some of the 2009 tests at the Florida Department of Education's Assessment and School Performance page.
How are the tests scored?
FCAT results report the level of proficiency a student demonstrates in each of the subject areas tested, with level 1 being the lowest and level 5 the highest. Florida considers scores of level 3 and higher to be on or above grade level. The goal is for all students to score at or above level 3.
FCAT Writing reports proficiency on a scale of 1 to 6, with level 3.5 and higher considered to be meeting standards. A multiple choice portion of the test was eliminated in 2008-2009.
How are FCAT results reported?
There are several types of scores for the FCAT. For reading, math, and science, mean scores are reported on a scale of 100 to 500, with 500 being the highest score. Grade-level/subject-level scores are given in terms of five achievement levels, with 1 being the lowest and 5 the highest. The writing portion of the test is scored on a scale of 1 to 6. Scores are sent to students, schools and school districts, and are posted on the Florida Department of Education's Web site.