Science FCAT … all for nothing?

This story about the science FCAT is a mixed bag. It’s sad kids have to be essentially bribed in order to give schools any hope of not nosediving in scores.

Ipods, prom tickets, limo rides — the prizes offered at American one morning last week are meant to motivate 11th-graders into taking and doing well on the upcoming FCAT science exam. While the scores won’t affect their state graduation requirements, they will count, for the first time, toward school grades.

Now some South Florida educators find themselves trying to entice 16-year-olds — even if it borders on a bit of bribery. At Michael Krop Senior High, students who score Level 3 or higher on the the science FCAT will get to sport shorts to class.

‘You are putting a certain amount of power in the hands of kids,” said Miami-Dade district science supervisor Cyd Heyliger-Browne. “But since they’re putting them in the driver’s seat, we’re telling them to drive us forward.”

”There are a lot of kids who don’t care because they know it doesn’t matter,” said Clifton Forbes, a junior at American.

That attitude is what concerns officials most.

”Between 94 and 96 percent of juniors have to show up and take the test or their school will be penalized,” Heyliger-Browne said. When not enough students at a school take the test, the school receives an Incomplete from the state rather than a grade, no matter how well students score.

Experts say science’s growing influence in standardized testing stems from an increased emphasis on math. But they are skeptical of the format being used to measure science comprehension at the high school level. They much prefer final exams in specific subjects.

”Generally, with an 11th-grade comprehensive test such as the FCAT, the state’s standards are not terribly high,” said Lynn Cornett, a senior vice president of educational policies for the Southern Regional Educational Board. “You end up not teaching to a high level of standards on that test.”

Cornett said that at the middle school level, science courses are already too broad and shallow, which reflects in testing that fails to cover subject matter in depth.

Unfortunately, that’s a lot of negative stuff packed into one story. The test is high stakes for the schools, but not so much for the kids. Kids are being pretty much bribed. The kids have the control rather than the schools. This style of testing is possibly not the best for a subject like science. Science in schools is not covered well as a result.

Whew! And this stuff is supposed to help kids? How?

About Brandon Haught

Communications Director for Florida Citizens for Science.
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