Company picked to replace FCAT; new test expected in 2014-15
Published: Monday, March 17, 2014 at 5:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 17, 2014 at 5:27 p.m.
Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart announced her choice Monday for the test that next school year will replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
Stewart picked the nonprofit company American Institutes for Research to provide the test, which doesn't yet have a name. The state is approving a six-year, $220 million contract with AIR to develop the test.
Floridians have been waiting for Stewart's choice since September, when Gov. Rick Scott directed state education officials to back out of a multi-state consortium designing tests for the Common Core State Standards, which the Legislature adopted in 2010.
Following Scott's order, the Florida Department of Education solicited public feedback on state English-language arts and math standards, eventually tweaking Common Core ever so slightly to become the Florida Standards.
Students will start taking the AIR test around this time next year.
“I feel very confident that it is the best choice for Florida students,” Stewart said during a media conference call.
Stewart's word is law, since the Board of Education does not have a say on state assessments per Florida statutes.
Scott's executive order listed these as characteristics a new vendor and test should have: timely test results; similar or lower cost to the state than FCAT; similar testing time to past years, occurring close to the end of the school year; appropriate technology requirements; comparability to other states; and accurate measurement of standards.
While Stewart maintains the AIR test will adhere to all of those specifications, early critics have expressed concerns that some of the points aren't clear.
Technically, Florida will be able to compare its test results to another state. AIR is being field-tested in Utah right now.
But Utah is demographically much different than Florida, and if more states don't sign on to AIR, comparing test scores across the two states might be meaningless.
Another concern is what the test is going to look like.
“It's still unknown to us,” said Alachua County Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Karen Clarke.
Although Alachua County teachers have been phasing in the new standards over the past three years, they won't have sample materials until late spring or early summer.
That doesn't necessarily mean teachers and students will be unprepared for the new test, Clarke said. They knew a new test would include fewer multiple-choice questions and more writing and performance-based tasks such as drawing graphs and reasoning through multi-step problems.
“Bottom line is we've been working for the last couple of years to implement Common Core,” Clarke said, which is nearly the same as the new Florida Standards. “I think regardless of what company was selected, that our job was to teach those standards.”
Stewart said Monday student scores on the new test still will be used in part to evaluate teachers and determine school grades.
Noting that a change in assessments is likely to affect student test scores in some way, however, Stewart has said schools whose grades drop won't be punished next year.