Let me be clear. I am not against standardized testing. In fact, I think it is a necessity in order to keep students motivated as well as to keep track of the health of the educational system and the rate at which the young generation is learning. However, I believe that the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) is a highly flawed system that is hurting the learning experience of children across the Sunshine State.
The problem mainly emerges from the nature of the test and the way students are prepared. This is most clearly seen in the reading test. It is a multiple choice platform in which students read a passage and then proceed to answer questions about it, ranging from vocabulary to reading comprehension. That is good considering students must learn how to comprehend what they read. However, the way students prepare for this is what really hurts them. Looking back at my FCAT years, I notice that we would spend all year preparing for that one test. Doing practice after practice after passage after passage, but never really learned anything other than the skills needed to pass that particular test. We never learned to think for ourselves, to create our own opinion about a passage and be able to express that, much like we do in college. We were taught to follow a system of black and white with no grey area.
When I went to high school, I was fortunate enough to be part of the AICE program from the University of Cambridge. Much like IB and AP, we also had to take a test at the end of the year. But in contrast to the FCAT, we actually learned during that process of preparation. We read famous texts and plays, and took mock exams modeled after the questions that appeared on past AICE exams. There was no multiple choice, only essays, and the questions gave us a chance to explore the text freely, and be able to answer the question to our own interpretation, as long as we backed it up. Not only did this make me a better reader, but also a much better writer, which prepared me extensively for college.
That is why I believe FCAT should undergo a major reboot and look to the European educational system as a model. They should, like Cambridge, come up with a list of subjects that will be tested at the end of the term, such as a list of texts, and have students prepare using that material. Unlike FCAT, which requires students to read endless amounts of passages, this will allow students to focus on just three or four texts, but really be able to explore them and truly learn what it is to read and comprehend the message an author is trying to send.