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The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and State Standards: An Overview

High-stakes testing and letter grades for schools based on test performance are the key components of Florida's plan to drive school improvement.

By GreatSchools Staff

For the past 20 years, Florida has been one of the leaders among the 50 states in the standards and accountability movement. In 1999, continuing in this tradition, the Florida Legislature adopted the A+ Plan for Education, a blueprint for school reform with accountability as its focus.

Here are some basic questions and answers about Florida's standards and testing plan:

What is the FCAT?

The FCAT, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (pronounced "ef-cat") is a test given annually to all students in grades 3 through 11. The test measures student achievement in reading, writing, mathematics, and science based on the state's grade-level standards. In grades 4, 8 and 10 students take a writing test which consists of an essay and multiple choice questions. A reading and mathematics test is given in grades 3 through 10. In grades 5, 8 and 11 students take a science test.

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 2006 tests at The Florida Department of Education's Assessment and School Performance page.

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.

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 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. You can also find test scores by checking School Profiles.

What are the Sunshine State Standards (SSS)?

The Sunshine State Standards are Florida's version of statewide learning standards which define grade level expectations in the subject areas of language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, the arts (dance, music, theater and visual arts), foreign languages, health and physical education. Part of the FCAT is designed to measure achievement of the standards in language arts, mathematics and science.

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.

Comments from readers

"Just recently, I had been out of school due to a minor illness with my stomach similar that of to an ulcer. With that said, I had missed my FCAT testing and had to have a make up day. I could only make it one day of makeup and i was only able to do the first session. I had went to my SLC office today for advice on where to go to take the test and they had told me that i had already been sent to state. I fear that i will be placed in a remedial class when my letter grades rarely fall below B's. Ive been in honors since 1st grade and i fear that my placement for an English class will be affected because of this low score. Is there anyone i can bring this problem to such as the superintendent, and take the 2nd session, take a new test all together in its place, or anything to help. A fast response would be appreciated. Thank you. "
"I hope the FCAT is Elimainated because I want to Graduate a, get my High School Diploma and Be a Succesful Engineer but I have a Learning Disability so thats Not Even Fair that I have to pass The Fcat. Im a great student All A's and B's but when ever it comes to big test like Fcat I never to good because of my disability. "
"I was suppose to get my High School Diploma in 2004. I had good grades all throughout high school. I took the FCAT and only passed the Reading. Unfortunately I ended high school with a High School Certificate of Completion. It really sucks how ONE test kept me away from receiving my high school diploma. I am going to take the test once again in April and I pray to pass it. I believe that if you have passing grades throughout the school year there should be no hold up on receiving your diploma. "
"I failed my reading FCAT by one point. I have AP classes and my only electives are spanish and SGA(I am sophomore class president). I have practically all A's and I volunteer and I am in many clubs. But since I failed by one point I have to take out AP world history next year! I am so mad. Now someone would not be mad about that but I am severely mad because I like learning and the fact that this is a college level class and that I need it. I am never going to need FCAT in my life. I will not need to read a one page article and take an hour to figure out the purpose of this article and all that stuff. I read 1,000 page books, so I am good. All the kids that are not as smart as me laughed at me. I like stressed out during FCAT so bad that I over did it. This test stressed me out badly and I failed by one point, which makes me mad! FCAT is a waste of time and I am never going to need it in my life. I came home crying when I found out about this. Also I stressed out so bad that i got a C on my Spanish final and I have never gotten a C on any Spanish tests. It was so bad I was practically crying at the final. And people made fun of me. I am very smart like you have no idea. I care a lot about school and my classes and FCAT is just stressing me out."
"I hate the test point blank. I passes reading and I failed math but I passes it on my 2nd try. My thoughts are this fcat is stuipd. I bet if jeb bush took it I would not pass. I know he would not. I can understand that he wants the students to be able to real and learn baisc math. But if a person wants to be dumb all there life thats them, let them do what they want to do. Also basic math is just +,-,/ and thats it I have a great job and I dont use math and I make more then my teacher does on a bad day or a week paid vacation. All this crap that we have to learn half of it is not needed in the real word and for the perosn on 03/22/08 who worte there comment I am happy that you passes on the first try but I could care less and how dare you talk down on any one that dont remember math from 7 years ago it is not needed im in college now math is something that only goes as far as the baisc elementary stage. Which made me mad all the timesI study i just wasted my t! ime and loss sleep and Jeb bush is stupid tell him and everybody that pass this law to take the test see how many passes. "
"I think some of these rules are just ridiculous......if a student is an A, B student but had a hard time with one test I don't feel they should be retained in the third grade , it doesn't mean they are not on their grade level, maybe the have terrible test anxiety."
"I believe fcat is a waste of time. who does bush's brother think he is? Making people feel stupid because of a test that doesnt need to really be used. we have plenty of test in school plus midterms and finals. I feel he made this test so that you can watch all us kids suffer. One score on a test shouldn't determine how smart or stupid you are. Some of the rules in FCAT are just ridiculous. If a person is sick or there was a bad accident in the family, they automatically get failed and are placed in a remedial reading class. how idiotic!!!!Also many get test anxiety or stress over the test which causes them to not do as well as they could. The school board is very exaggerating about the test. It's as if the word 'FCAT' is something like a curse. In reality the test results makes others self esteem drop. Making the individual feel as if they are too unintelligent to process in school."
"I am a teacher that just moved to Florida from another state. I can not believe the emphasis this state puts on the FCAT. These poor students have so much stress put on them about their FCAT scores. No wonder so many students have test anxiety. As teachers, we are told teach “this” because it's on the FCAT; teach “that” because it's on the FCAT. What about just teaching students what's important for them to learn for 'real life' instead of teaching them how to do well on some ridiculous standardized test. The state I came from did not put this much emphasis on standardized tests, and guess what? Our state has one of the highest ACT scores and SAT scores in the US and one of the lowest dropout rates. Florida needs to learn from the Midwest. Get rid of the emphasis you put on the FCAT and spend more time teaching KIDS and less time teaching standardized tests. "
"I am not a stupid child. The day of the Math FCAT I was sick, yes I know,what are the chances. I had to excuse myself to vomit in the restroom and asked the woman in charge of testing what would happen if I didn't take the test. She said because I already opened the test I couldn't retake it until next year and to try my best. I have a feeling I failed. So I probably have to take a remedial class when I have currently an A in my geometry class. The system is flawed. I hope our governor can take the proper action to correct this and other problems similar to my own."
"Personally the F-CAT is a joke, students have to pass this thing even if that day a family member died or their sick or their having a bad week, so everything they did the whole year went down the drain thats why theirs so many drop outs! This test is for teachers not students and since their always complaining about pay thats why so many kids fail, so whos fault is that?"
"Is no one else bothered by the fact that although the kids excell in the writing portion, most fail miserabely in the reading? Are the two supposed to be connected? I think teachers are concentrating too much on preparing for the test than actually teaching the material these kids need to know. Give me two weeks with a bunch of kids and I can teach them to pass a test without having any of the information be retain. While I agree that the test is a necessary step, we must now look at the results and find out what we have been doing wrong "
"I am a senior at a public school. I passed the FCAT on my first try in the 10th grade. It is not a hard test, I have test taking anxieties just like other students. If a student cannot do well on a simple timed test, how can they be expected to do well in college or the work force? The test should stay in place to test the competency of students in our schools. The tests should probably be given to home and private school students too. If a student leaves a failing school, why should they get a state funded voucher to go to a private school where they are not monitered by the state and the teachers do not need to be ceritified. Home schooled students can get text books and materials from state funded public schools. To earn the same diploma as public school students, should they not be required to meet the same standards as their counter parts? Especially when these students are potentially using state resources? Keep the FCAT and give it to all Florid! a students. "
"Since before I can remember I have been preparing to take this dreaded test they called the 'FCAT'. This test in the end would let me have my high school diploma. My teachers would take time out of the lessons they had already prepared for the year just to have practice for it. So everything we were being taught would always be on hold until practice was over. I remember always feeling nervous because in the back of my mind I knew that the score I received told me how I compared to everyone else. Through the years my scores would rise, fall, or stay the same. Every time it fell, even if by a few points, my self-esteem would drop with it. The scores always reflected how I was feeling the day I took the test. The “readers” who grade these tests didn’t understand that I may have been sick the day I took it or that I just haven’t ever been good at standardized tests. Well, I’m a junior in high school now. That means I took that miserable test for the last time, last year. And I am proud to say that I have passed it. In order to pass, however, I had to first convince myself that I was smart enough to. "
"The FCAT is the end-all-be-all of jokes. Instead of stressing over standardized tests, the stress should be over teaching our children what they should know. I was educated in Pittsburgh and our basic cirriculum was hard, thank God! The children are being cheated out of a good education because no one wants to take the time and teach correctly. If I moved back up north, my daughter would have to repeat the grade she is in. What does that say about Florida's education? Florida doen't know anything about a 'magnet' school! Instead of concentrating on a test, Florida neds to invest in sending educators to northern states to get vital information and a better cirriculum estbablished! Then the teachers should be able to holler about a 'Pay Increase' "
"The FCAT is the worst thing invented by man since crack. It clearly lowers a childs self motivation with the government saying a child is not competent with just one test.The FCAT really needs to be eliminated for the sake of our children. Why put some much pressure on a child just developing learning skills in elementary or a child trying to get through High School and all the pressure of becoming an Adult Jeb Bush didn't have to take it so apparently just doesn't care! Get rid of the test for the sake of our children and help them not try to constantly hurt them. "
"I just want to know what company puts the FCAT together? And is it true that there is a link between Neil Bush's Learning Company and the state of Florida? Everything I've read seems to indicate the Governor's taking care of his little brother. And to the person who said... 'Personally, I think its time for students who did not pass the FCAT, to lick their collective wounds and look upon the FCAT as a tool in measuring ones preparedness for the next step into life, be it college or the workforce. ' You aren't as educated on the subject as you think you are. Read some more! This appears to be more about politics and money than our children. "
"After listening to the media and reviewing the turmoil the FCAT is prompting within the local community here in South Florida, I thought it wise to do some research and find out just what is the FCAT, and why is it a cadre of high school seniors, civic leaders and local politician are up arms. Listening to the local Miami news stations I could easily be up in arms over what appears to be a 'slanted' and biased examination. Given the varied cultural makeup of the Broward Miami-Dade Counties I can see why words like biased and in extreme cases racist are uttered. After educating myself on the FCAT and the SSS, what a hoot Sunshine State Standards, it appears the Sunshine State has almost no other recourse but to tighten up its educational standards and utilize achievement tests such as the FCAT. It is not as if implementation of the FCAT came as a sudden surprise. This year's graduating seniors have had at least four years to prepare themselves for the FCAT, if I understand the testing procedure correctly. Growing up in the State of Illinois, I dare not mention the year, students attending public schools were required to take standardize achievement tests each year. Frankly, I feel none the worse for the experience. Personally, I think its time for students who did not pass the FCAT, to lick their collective wounds and look upon the FCAT as a tool in measuring ones preparedness for the next step into life, be it college or the workforce. "
"If my child has passing grades every nine weeks, grades like A, B, C and even D,(all consider passing grades), she BETTER be promoted to the next grade. I cannot see how ONE test can determine her promotion to the next grade. If so, why send report cards every nine weeks? A waste of paper, time, money, etc. There are many events that can affect the score of ONE test (sickness, death of family member, lost of a pet, parents divorce, etc). This is the mentality and the 'know it all' attitude of POLITICIANS. I don't agree and it is not fair. Again, if my child has passing grades every 9 weeks, she better be promoted or the state of florida will see ME in court. "
"I agree with the student who says that passing the FCAT Reading or Math shoul dn't be a determining factor in graduating. There are people who are just not good test takers but are extremely bright. You have people with test anxiety or someone like me who just doesn't do well on timed tests. Testing as the only indicator of whether or not someone has achieved the highest level of academic excellence has never been a 'good' idea. Many students work very hard in school to get the most out of it. They should not be penalized for missing the FCAT Reading by ten points. I wonder what this students ACT or SAT scores are like. Aside from that I have read many articles lately stating that as FCAT scores increase, the scores on ACT and SAT have gone down. Maybe that's because to much time is spent learning the FCAT and not enough spent on learning the basics. "
"I am one of the many students who has not yet passed the reading portion of the FCAT. I first took the exam when I had transfered from a private school. I have kept on taking the test since 10th grade and not yet recieved a passing score. I thought that due to the fact that I am already a senior and so close to graduating I would be able to have the old test score scale which was a 287. For the past 2 years every single time I have taken this exam I have recieved a 290, I would have passed if not for the governor bring up the scores. I think it is ridiculous that I have met all my graduating requirements and have plans for college and now my plans have changed. I have worked long and extremely hard to get to where I am today and Im sure I am not the only student who has. It is a shame that the lives of many graduating students of the class of 2003 will have to put their futures on hold because of this exam which does'nt even come close to proving all our hard work and dedication throughout the years. I will not yet give up but this is truely a shame that one test will basically decide whether we recieve a high school diploma or not. "