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Scott Maxwell: Is FCAT a failure? Yes

Florida Comprehensive Assessment TestCompanies and CorporationsIBM

The FCAT is a bit of a mess right now.

The scores came late. They may be wrong. And the company that taxpayers pay $254 million to run the thing can't seem to do its job right.

Maybe now's a good time to reconsider whether Florida should make this single test the end-all-be-all judgment of education in this state.

We should have reconsidered long ago.

The test may be a fine part of an overall measuring system. But our politicians' zeal to judge everything — from students and teachers to schools and entire districts — based on a bunch of penciled-in bubbles is as simple-minded as it is flawed.

We hear constant talk about "running government like a business." (It's a faulty premise better suited for talk-radio sound bites than reality, since the two have wildly different goals.) But just for argument's sake, let's apply the FCAT model to the private sector and see how well it works:

Your company sells widgets.

Common sense tells you to reward the employees who sell the most widgets, and who come up with strategies for their co-workers to sell them too, right?

Wrong. Under FCAT logic, instead of basing raises on performance, you'd base them on a standardized test. Lets' call it the Widget Aptitude Check for Key Efficiencies and Dexterities (WACKED).

It doesn't matter if your top salesman has real-world abilities and has boosted profits for your Central Florida division by 10 percent. If he scores below average on his WACKED test, he gets demoted.

What's more, your top salesman's boss gets penalized.

And then, to put a cherry on top of this sundae of stupidity, his entire office — the top-performing branch in your entire franchise — gets punished.

You show me a business run like that, and I'll show you one that won't be open for long — or attract top talent.

The FCAT also fails to promote the quality that top executives believe is most successful in the real world — creativity.

That's not according to me. That's according to a recent IBM poll of more than 1,500 CEOs from more than 60 counties and 33 industries who said that creativity is the No. 1 necessity for any business that expects to thrive in our fast-changing times.

Penciled-in bubbles don't measure that.

Hey, you're not talking to a bubble-hater here.

I did well on my standardized tests back in the day. And both Mike Thomas and I somehow managed to ace the high-school FCATs when we took them for giggles' sake a few years ago.

I believe they are valuable tools.

But, unlike Mike and our public-school-hating legislators, I believe there's much more to judging a child than a single test.

I believe teachers know more about educating children than politicians.

And I don't believe that any essential parts of a well-rounded education — be it art, literature, athletics, vocational skills or anything else — should be cut short simply to provide more hours prepping for a standardized tests.

You can hardly blame the teachers who teach for the test.

Everything from the students' fate to their school's budget is affected by it.

And now we have legislators also pushing to make this test the biggest factor in determining teachers' job-performance.

Even though the test is currently a mess.

Even though administering it already requires redirecting gobs of money and resources from schools that are woefully short on both.

Even though proposals to move the test to computers are expected to cause even more problems and costs.

Even though the test doesn't take into account multitudes of external factors that can affect scores.

And even though we've seen numerous examples of questionable results for both individual students and entire schools.

The test simply isn't perfect.

So, yes, we can use it. But only as one part of a multi-faceted evaluation — one that looks at the year-round performance of both students and teachers.

We should treat the students as individuals and the teachers as professionals.

We should care as much about investing in schools as we do judging them.

Passing a single test shouldn't be the goal.

Producing smart, mature and creative young adults should.

Scott Maxwell can be reached at smaxwell@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-6141.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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