FCAT Results Inch Upward, but Critics Question Testing Process

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Forty-three thousand Florida third graders failed the FCAT in 2003. This year two-thirds of them scored at level three or above, up three percentage points from last year.

Supporters of the controversial test, like State Rep. Bev Kilmer of Marianna, say the results show Florida's doing a better job of educating its kids.

“The teachers, the parents, the administration have all come together to make sure the children have the opportunity to advance and get educated and the children are excited,” Rep. Kilmer says.

But there are plenty of critics who question whether the state deliberately made the test easier this year so it wouldn't have mass failings in an election year. One of those concerned is Sen. Frederica Wilson of Miami.

“They want the state to be calm, the parents, the children, the advocates, and it won't be calm if thousands of children don't receive diplomas or if thousands of third graders are retained,” Sen. Wilson says.

Democratic lawmakers like Senate Minority Leader Rom Klein have asked for a side-by-side comparison to see whether the tests were “dumbed down”.

“If the credibility of the test is being questioned and we don't have an independent verification, which is what we've been asking for as to making sure the test is the same from year to year, then I think the public loses confidence,” Klein says.

Whether the FCAT was easier or not, one in ten high school seniors still may not receive their diplomas this year because they couldn't pass.

Florida Teacher's Union spokesman Mark Pudlow says the numbers show hinging a child's future all on one test still isn't fair.

“I think there's still an awful lot of pressure on students and on teachers to do well on this one single snapshot,” says Pudlow.

But even the critics say they're proud of the students who are working hard to measure up. Orlando Sen. Gary Siplin has filed a bill that would let parents or guardians see their child's FCAT questions and answers. The bill narrowly passed a committee last week, but it must clear three more committees before it could come before the full Senate for a vote.

For more information on FCAT results, log onto the Florida Department of Education website at www.fldoe.org