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Common Core foes ‘outraged’ over FCAT’s replacement

— Parents, teachers and public school officials are getting their first look at the new Florida Standards Assessment, and some are concerned with what they see.

The Florida Department of Education unveiled a new website this week containing practice tests, test summaries, testing policies and administrator information about the FSA, which replaces the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test next school year.

The site, www.fsassessments.org, also allows for public feedback on the test until Sept. 5, Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said in a letter to school superintendents.

“I think it’s a very good thing they rolled this information out so parents have an opportunity ahead of time to see what’s going to be expected of their children knowledge-wise,” Pinellas County School Board member Rene Flowers said. “We’ve all been waiting to see what this test would look like.”

The FSA is aligned to the new Florida Standards, education standards modeled after the Common Core State Standards that will be adopted in 45 states and the District of Columbia. The questions are a mix of traditional multiple-choice items and lengthier paragraph responses designed to demonstrate critical thinking. More reading will be required in all test subjects, and answers will have to prove students understand the concepts behind what they are learning and aren’t only regurgitating facts.

A sample problem on a seventh- and eighth-grade math exam, for example, may ask students to write a fact about an equation or rewrite a problem that has been written incorrectly. Students may be required to build graphs or models for their answers.

Third- through fifth-grade English tests may require students to read passages and choose statements with which the author may agree, or describe relationships between paragraphs, such as whether they show cause-and-effect or comparisons.

Laura Zorc, co-founder of the 15,000-member grass-roots group Florida Parents Against Common Core, said the test looks like other Common Core standardized tests the state rejected.

“I’m outraged,” Zorc said. “Now we know what’s coming, but it doesn’t make it any easier.”

The website allows students time to practice the new online format and to see the wording on the tests before they take it, as early as December. Still, no high-stakes accountability measures, such as selecting a “turnaround option” for schools that earn a D or F grade based on students’ scores, will be attached to the test for its first year.

“Before they rolled the FCAT out they asked various school boards, parents, all those organizations to weigh in, and they did weigh in, but the state continued in the way they wanted to move forward,” Flowers said. “It’s the same thing with Common Core and with the new test; we weighed in with our feelings and the testing schedule and some of it was taken to heart and some wasn’t.

“I hope this time, when they gather their feedback from the site, they actually take strong consideration to what is said,” she said.

School board member Peggy O’Shea said she found the wording of some of the sample problems confusing, and was especially concerned that the online testing model did not allow students to skip questions and return to them later.

“If there’s one question a child doesn’t know, they shouldn’t be penalized for the whole test,” O’Shea said. “We have to not only analyze what the questions are, but how the students take the test. They take this very seriously, they want to do their best, and you don’t want to make it more difficult for them because of things they have no control over.”

The school district has worked to introduce laptops and other electronic devices in schools, but officials hope to administer the tests on computers set aside for testing to ensure they are secure. There still may be a barrier when young students or those who don’t have frequent exposure to computers are expected to take the exam online and create models or graphs using computer functions, O’Shea said.

Teachers have to understand the test and how it relates to the new standards and their classroom lessons as well, school board Chairwoman Carol Cook said.

“The standard concern is we put so much importance on this one test, and it’s a one-day snapshot of what the students have learned,” Cook said. “What we were really hoping for was a longer time period to work all the bugs out before this test really affects our students and our employees.”

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