AIR is the new FCAT: Florida education commissioner selects new assessment test

AIR is the new FCAT: Florida education commissioner selects new assessment test

eearl@bradenton.comMarch 17, 2014 

MANATEE -- Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart has selected the American Institutes for Research assessment test to replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

The new assessment, announced Monday, is part of the rolling out of Common Core in Florida, called the Florida Standards for College and Career Readiness.

Other testing companies in the running included Pearson and CTB-McGraw Hill. Bidding for Florida's assessment test to accompany Common Core closed in December 2013.

"This assessment supports our new standards, which emphasize flexibility for teachers to make their own decisions in classrooms while preparing our students to analyze and think," Stewart said in a press release.

The American Institutes for Research is a nonprofit behavioral and social science research and evaluation organization.

Their website states: "AIR's work includes formative, summative, diagnostic, and international assessment, and is used to measure student or system performance."

Stewart said she was charged with choosing the "best" assessment for students that encompasses timely results, testing later in the school year, flexibility in school districts and accommodating for exceptional student education students.

"It is important that each and every child in this state have the opportunity to learn and succeed in college, career and in life," she said. "This new method of assessment will allow teachers to emphasize critical thinking, which will provide our students with even greater opportunities to live and learn in Florida.

"The new test will provide a more authentic assessment of the Florida Standards, because it will include more than multiple choice questions," Stewart added. "Students will be asked to create graphs, interact with test content and write and respond in different ways than on traditional tests."

Diana Greene, deputy superintendent of instructional services, said the Manatee County School District has more questions now that an assessment has been chosen.

"We know what the assessment is going to be, but we have no idea what it will look like," Greene said. "I still have more questions than answers right now. We need to have an understanding of what will be the makeup of the assessment."

The state said the test will feature "new question types." Greene said the district will offer training for the new assessment this summer, and practice tests will be available for a preview of the new test format.

"When we learn more, we will be able to give more information to teachers for how to develop a curriculum map, and we will find out what support training and resources are needed for teachers to be successful," Greene said. "We also want to know how we will be able to check up on students throughout the school year."

Gov. Rick Scott had opposed adopting the reading and writing benchmarks in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, one of the two assessments used in Common Core. In August 2013, Scott convened the state's top education leaders and bipartisan stakeholders for a three-day summit to collect input to formulate the Florida Standards and find an appropriate assessment.

The meeting yielded 98 proposed changes to the original Common Core curriculum, including new calculus standards, requiring students to master cursive writing (a skill not included in the original Common Core standards), and introducing money concepts in the first grade, instead of the second grade.

Florida Standards will include handwriting for kindergarten through third grade, with cursive writing introduced in third grade. Also, writing will be combined into the reading and language arts assessment. These standards were approved in February.

The new assessment will mean more informational texts and less literature. With the Florida Standards, civics, biology and American history final exams will now be a part of school grades.

As a counterbalance, Greene said the state expects the school grading system to be simpler with the rollout of Common Core.

"Right now you need two bachelor's degrees to understand the grading system at elementary, middle and high schools," Greene said at a community engagement forum earlier this month.

In case the new assessment is solely online, Greene said Manatee's Chief Information Officer Mike Borysiewicz is working on improving the district's IT.

"Mr. Borysiewicz is working feverishly to ensure we will have the capability to do single sign-ons and handle this massive amount of online assessments," Greene said.

The Florida Department of Education said high school students trying to achieve graduation requirements will not have to be dependent on passing the new assessment during a crucial time academically. Tenth-grade students will take the FCAT 2.0 reading test to maintain consistency. The FCAT 2.0 science exam will be used in fifth and eight grades in 2014-15 before being phased out in 2015-16.

The remainder of the FCAT testing will be replaced by the American Institutes of Research assessments in 2014-15.

The Florida Department of Education also stated Monday that the new assessment will cost less than the FCAT, asserting that the cost per student will be $34.23 rather than the current $36.17.

Greene said the district is encouraging teachers to read the memo sent from Commissioner Stewart.

"Once we get answers, we can develop a plan to move the district forward," Greene said.

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