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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.

Which results are included on GreatSchools profiles?

GreatSchools shows the percentage of students scoring at or above grade level (level 3 or higher) on the FCAT reading, math, and science tests. FCAT writing results, displayed separately, show the percentage of students scoring at or above level 3.5.

How does the FCAT affect promotion?

There are no passing scores set for grades 4 through 9. Students in grade 3 who score at level 1 (out of 5) on the FCAT reading test will not be promoted to the next grade unless there is other evidence that proves these students can read on grade level. Students who are retained will be given intensive instruction in reading to help them meet the standards.

Each local school board is required to have a pupil progression plan which sets guidelines for promotion from grade to grade. The plan must include clearly defined proficiency levels in reading, writing, math and science and must consider the FCAT scores in determining whether or not a student should be promoted.

Does Florida have a high school exit exam?

All students must earn a passing score of 300 on the grade 10 FCAT in reading and math in order to graduate from high school. Students who fail the grade 10 FCAT have many opportunities to retake the test.

Florida had planned to require students in the class of 2010 and beyond to pass the grade 10 writing test in order to graduate, but this requirement was postponed indefinitely in April 2008.

Are some students given special consideration?

Special accommodations for learning-disabled students and limited English proficient students are available, but all students must take the grade 10 FCAT in order to receive a high school diploma.

Why do the tests matter?

FCAT scores are important for schools because they help determine whether a school will receive financial rewards or penalties from the state. Florida gives each school a letter grade (A-F) based on: overall performance of the school's students on the FCAT, the percentage of eligible students who took the test, and whether or not students are making adequate progress in reading and math.

It is important to pay attention to your child's FCAT scores because all high school students must pass the grade 10 FCAT in reading and math to graduate. Students who do not pass the reading and math portions of the test in grade 10 have many opportunities to retake the test. All grade 3 students who score at level 1 in reading on the FCAT are retained, unless there is other evidence to prove they can read at grade level.

If the school's overall scores are low, ask what steps the school is taking to raise achievement levels for all students, and what you as a parent can do to help. If your child is in a failing school, ask what your options are for transferring and obtaining supplemental educational services through Florida's A+ Plan for Education.

Florida School Grades

The A+ Plan for Education is Florida's blueprint for improving schools and providing accountability. Schools that do well receive financial awards, and schools that need improvement receive financial assistance. The A+ Plan also includes provisions for eliminating social promotion and raising standards for teacher certification.

Florida School Grades show how well students are performing against the state standards. Schools get grades based on:

  • Overall performance of their students on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), the state's standardized test
  • The percentage of eligible students who take the test
  • Whether or not students have made annual learning gains in reading and math, with particular attention to the reading and math scores of the lowest 25% of students in the school

Here are some key points of the A+ Plan for Education:

1. All public schools get letter grades on an A to F scale. Schools receive grades based on a complicated point system. A school's grade makes it clear to the school, the parents and the general public where the school stands. School scores are sent home to the parents, published on "report cards" on the Florida Department of Education Web site and publicized through the media.

Schools that receive a D or F grade are eligible for financial assistance from their district and the state, as well as additional staff to help with school improvement, while schools that receive an A or show significant improvement may qualify for monetary rewards known as School Recognition Funds.

At least 95% of students (excluding severely emotionally disturbed, autistic and limited English proficient students) must take the test for the school to receive a grade of A. For all other grades, at least 90% of students must be tested, or the final grade may be lowered by one letter grade. If a school that otherwise would be graded B or C does not make adequate progress for two years in a row, its final grade is reduced by one letter grade, unless the school develops a School Improvement Plan. If a school that otherwise would be graded A does not make adequate progress in the current year, its final grade is reduced to B.

For a complete explanation of the state's school grading system, go to the Florida Department of Education's Florida School Grades page.

2. The A+ Plan ends social promotion. The state has provided funding to schools for remedial efforts such as after-school tutoring, mentoring and small class sizes. Each district is required to create a pupil progression plan which spells out grade-level standards and requirements for passing from one grade level to another. Different districts have different promotion requirements, but all districts are required to specify proficiency levels in reading, writing, math and science, and to consider FCAT scores as one gauge of student achievement.

Students who score at level 1 (out of 5) in reading on the FCAT in grade 3 are supposed to be retained for another year; school districts can make exceptions. Students must receive a grade of 300 or above (out of 500) on the grade 10 FCAT in order to graduate.

3. The A+ Plan raises standards for teachers. The A+ Plan raises the bar for teachers by increasing initial certification requirements, recertification requirements and admission standards for entry into colleges of education. Colleges of education are also rated on their performance, and their ratings are published in their college catalogs.

Why is the School Grade important?

School Grades provide a summary of student performance and progress. Each school can use its detailed grade report to determine specific strengths and weaknesses. In addition, Florida's Department of Education provides support to low-performing schools and monetary rewards to high-performing schools. Lastly, schools receiving a grade of "D" or "F" cannot make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and may face additional consequences under federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) guidelines.

What are my options if my child is in a failing school?

If your child's school receives a grade of F for two of four consecutive years, then you are entitled to pursue several options. Your child can:

  • Stay at his designated school. Schools in this category receive additional help through the Assistance Plus program, including additional funds and staff to work on school improvement.
  • Move to another school in the county or an adjacent county that scored a C or better.

Parents can choose to keep their children at the failing school and work with the Assistance Plus staff to improve the educational environment. The Assistance Plus program provides failing schools with additional resources. Schools receive additional funding as well as additional staff (school improvement facilitators, reading coaches and technical assistants).

In 2008 there were 1019 "A" elementary schools compared to 21 "F" schools. The picture for high schools was less rosy, with 120 "A" schools compared to 16 in the "F" category.

What if my learning disabled student is not making progress?

If you are dissatisfied with the academic progress your learning disabled student is making on his IEP, you have the option to transfer him to another school, public or private. You can apply for a John M. McKay Scholarship, which is equal to the amount per student the state would have funded the student's previous school or the cost of the private school, whichever is less. Your child must have attended a Florida public school for at least one year before deciding to transfer. If you find you are unhappy with the private school in which your child is enrolled, you can transfer him to another private school or to a public school.

Search for Florida Schools.

Comments from readers

"I really believe there's nothing wrong with taking a test every year to see where your student stands, compared to other students of the same grade being taught the same material, but one would be foolish to pass or fail, a student with good grades in all major subjects, based on two or three days of testing some of the material taught over the course of the year, Im willing to bet I could fail the principal, or teachers, or anyone else with there own material, if I was to pick and ask the questions.Somtimes it's more how you ask, rather than what you ask. and it's wrong to say you know it or you dont. Remember Albert Enstein's parents where told there son was not very bright, he should go to a trade school, and Henry Ford had limited education, as many others who have changed the world. "
"I live in Houston,TX. My parents decided to move to Florida for better job opportunities and they want me to move with them but I don't know anythin about schools in Florida and people. What do you think ? Should I stay or should I go ? "
"ao la verdad que no entiendo muy bn esto yo tengo un nino 12 anos y lopoco que epododo ntender es que si mi nino no pasara el fca el la escuela superior el no pasa para la universidad la verdad que yo no entiendo esto por que la verdad que le estan quitando un brilegio de continuar su carrera yo como madre no mesentira satifecha con esto que esta su cdiendo con los estudiantes esto se ve muy preocupante para osotros los padres devera que si."
"My son is currently attending to a Title I school, I have the choice to transfer him to a better school so I would like to know if I need to be applying to keep him in the new school(for the upcoming years) or that will be something automatically once he is enrolled. Thank you."
"when will the 2009-2010 florida fcat scores, grades 4 be released. School is out for the summer."
"I think that the FCAT is a stupid test. I hate it!! Every year our schools teach just for the FCAT! That is all you hear about. My child is in 3rd grade and this is his first year to take the FCAT. He is so scared. He doesn't test well and has a 504 plan. He is so afraid that he will be held back because he didn't pass the reading portion. They need to get rid of this test and do something else. The Florida school system is horrible and I wish I would of stayed in Texas. If you are thinking about moving here with children think twice because the school system is messed up!!!!!"
"As President of the Learning Disabilities Association of Florida -- I want to commend Great Schools for an excellent summary of the situation. I recent development that is causing a stir -- the National No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Legislation requires each school to achieve a certain level of students passing the FCAT for 8 different groups -- including students with Disabilities to achieve AYP or Adequate Yearly Progress The Secretary of Education for the United States in Arnie Duncan -- and he is starting to tie grant and other money to achieving AYP -- and for many schools the Students with Disabilities is the hardest group to help This is resulting in many A and B schools not achieving AYP -- and in districts like Palm Beach County has caused a major change -- which resulted in parents, teachers and administration battling. The key point is that 62% of the students with disabilities who take the FCAT fail it, and we need to find innovative and effective ways to help our kids succeed If you would like to join the Learning Disabilities Association in this effort -- please call me at 561-361-7495"
"For the school year 2007-2008 my son who was in the 7th grade and my daughter who was in the 10th grade but she was homeschooled. Both of them have always been in the top percentile of all sections of the fcat including reading. It turns out BOTH of my kids failed the reading section. I do not believe they failed it I think it was a matter of the test being read and graded. There is no way a child gets high scores on previous fcat tests and in school to have failed it. This past school year-2008-2009 my soon took fcat and passed with high scores. My daughter went to take it but the school in our district refused to allow her to do so because she was being homeschooled. Turns out after was too late, the school was in the wrong. Now this year she should be graduating and because the Escambia County School district in Pensacola, Florida are stealing her credits she quit school. She is going through an adult high program to get her diploma. These people think they know the best! for our kids when are they going to realize if they do not listen to the parents or kids will always make wrong decisions. This is our kids future not theirs!!!!"
"I think is about time the guidelines get revised. What does it take for the people in the position to make a change, to make a change? School used to be fun, now teachers are pressured to get all this material for most but 7 weeks of the whole school year so that the school gets an A rating and they get their extra $2,500 at years end if that does happen? This is ridiculous ans inmoral. A teacher should teach because they have a vocation. Of course a little bonus doesn't hurt, we would all want that, but at the expense of our kids futures? The teachers don't have extra time to dedicate to the student that is a bit behind because they need to continue with the curriculum, how can they do that? Don't they have a conscience? Granted, the better students will always get ahead but they too are affected since the FCAT us based on the basic of the subject... This is why this country, and I do love America and would die for my coutry, is so behind when it comes to education. Ou! r curriculums do not measure up to par with other nations, even a 3rd world country like India or any Latin American country would beat any student from elementary all the way to College in knowledge of any kind. I came to this country at the age of 13 and I was told if I passed summer school I would not have to be put back a grade because I spoke no English. I passed with A's & Bs. I couldn't believe how easy my classes where. Thinds I had learned in Elementary School back home where being taught in HS! What is the secret? Maybe the fact that school is seen as a pressure and axiety building place for many kids is one factor for them to be stressed about learning... I am no expert in the field but I am worried. I moved to FL from NYC and I thought I would find a better educational system here.. Not so. In first grade my children where taken to the Guggenheim Musem to learn about abstract art, and this was a public school, they had fieldtrips to pumpkin patches in the ! fall and the zoo in the summer... That is how children should ! envision school, a fun place to learn and discover things you never knew. What will it take for the Dept of Education to accept that there is a problem with the system here in the State of Florida? it is a dead end street right now and nobody is willing to make any changes. "
"I regret to inform you that I am against this law. I have a 16 year old who is doing exceptionally well in her academic classes and yet she is having second thoughts about continuing her education any further due to this law. She was informed that if she does not pass the reading portion of the FCAT this year, she will not graduate with a diploma. Now, will someone please tell me, what do you tell a child when that child is a very good student with an aspiring future and feels as though her entire education is a hoax (a flop) because if she does not pass the FCAT she will not be able to attend a good college/university to pursue her degree of 'Criminal Justice'. Colleges/universities want to see a high school diploma, not a certificate of completion. How can this be fixed? I'm sorry, but I'm very concerned about this and very scared for my daughter's future, but my hands are tied thanks to this law."
"My advice to the post dtd, 08/19/2007, 06/29/2007: I understand your frustration behind a student and IEP requirements. ESE administrators are to adhere to an individuals IEP, or currently this would be a FEDERAL concern. Donot settle for less then what is written on the students IEP. The resources should be made available. As a parent of a high school student IEP, complacency places a major role when policies are to be followed through. Its our responsibility as parents to ensure policies which are outlined in our childs IEP are being followed by the our childs teacher. The ESE dept of the school is to make any changes necessary to accommadate the student. The principle should be notified if this is not being done. Then you have the ESE district manager, who usually is too busy. Keep going up the food change until the State is made aware...yes, time consuming, there are also advocate groups for the disable/w lawyers or your own personal lawyer which advocates persons with educational needs and disabilities. Discrimation is a horrific thing to experience. "
"My child attends school in St Johns County, Jacksonville, FL. I think it's really a system problem with Florida Schools and FCAT. The rules don't make common sense for all. My child is in the 6th grade and has an IEP and ESE student. My child has always had an IEP. We have only been in Florida for two years. It's difficult to get anyone from the school to explain procedures about intensive reading programs, P.E. requirements, FCAT, high school graduation. I'm concerned about my childs ESE and IEP needs. And really have received little help from the school or the entire St Johns County School district. I have read and heard many sad stories from other families. It's very disappointing for all students."
"My granddaughter made average and above grades in all subjects during her current 3rd grade year. She has visual needs diagnosed by a doctor who provided accommodation list to the school. The school ignored it. A meeting was scheduled with the appropriate school committee including the assistant principal and guidance counselor along with the student's parent. A 504 plan was implemented based on the doctor's diagnosis and recommendations. The student's father was told that his daughter was in jeopardy of not passing third grade due to FCAT scores. The doctor's recommendation was to have enlarged print tests and materials which were never provided. The student had to attend Summer Reading Camp (Summer School at her elementary school this summer) and took the Stanford 9 Reading Comprehension portion without enlarged print. The assistant principal told the child's father a large print edition of the test would be provided. It was not. She did not achieve the passing score on it and was told she has to repeat 3rd grade. An outside professional tested the student again with large print Stanford 9 Reading Comp portion and instead of being in 31 percentile, she scored in the 87 percentile but the school will not accept the additional professional testing. The student reads well...the teacher even said she does...but the Seminole County School District does not allow for any appeal process in this situation. We are extremely frustrated with everyone involved. Lawton Elementary is supposed to be a good school but I am beginning to believe it does not have the student's best interest as a factor; only the FCAT school grade. I am also a professional education in administration at a local school and have a background knowledge of the system and it is broken. Public school teachers ONLY teach to t! he FCAT instead of having the opportunity to teach students. The policy makers in Florida have created a disservice to the students and teachers with the FCAT. There is a valid need for evaluations and assessments but not to the detriment of considering individual situations for students. If a student worked hard and passed all subjects in a grade level, then the FCAT should not be the deciding factor. Some students just don't test well in standardized testing but do succeed in academic classroom standards."