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.

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 it.

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.

What is the A+ Plan for Education?

Based on their overall performance on the FCAT (including the percentage of eligible students who took the test) and improvement gains for the lowest performing students, each school in Florida is given a letter grade. Schools given a D or F grade are eligible to receive monetary assistance from their district and the state. Schools that receive an A or show significant improvement are eligible for monetary awards. Although letter grades for schools may seem harsh, the Florida legislature decided letter grades, as opposed to numbers, are clear designations that everyone can understand.

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.

It’s interesting to note that in 1999 there were 78 failing schools in the state. In 2006 there were 943 “A” elementary schools compared to 7 “F” schools. The picture for high schools was less rosy, with 64 “A” schools compared to 10 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.

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