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American Enterprise Bank

Curiosity is killed by the FCAT

How did we end up with something as wholly-despised as the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT?

It would be easy to lay the state’s current system for measuring student learning at the feet of former governor Jeb Bush, an advocate of standardized testing and other Florida education reforms implemented after he took office in 1999.

But there’s plenty of blame to go around, from the Florida Legislature to the State Board of Education and the bureaucrats at the Florida Department of Education and the corporations (yes, bureaucrats exist outside  government, too) that profit from making the tests and the systems that process them, and report the results to the state.

It’s amazing that despite complaints from parents, teachers, administrators and the public at large about the FCAT and how standardized tests  are stifling learning in Florida’s classrooms, these exams persist.

Take our website poll this week asking readers whether the state should do away with FCAT tests, which number two per year for most grades, but up to four for some students.

Twenty-two of the 30 respondents to the poll answered yes, the FCAT should be banished, while just seven said no, and one was undecided.

The poll is not nearly as scientific as the FCAT scoring system, but it would appear very few people support the current method of measuring student achievement.

And why should they?

If we want our children to become professional test takers, we have it made. They memorize facts and linear processes to achieve some end before taking an exam to show the world they can do such things adequately.

Our robot masters of the future would be proud.

But if we want students to develop a curiosity about the world or learn how to think critically, the FCAT is not the way. Where’s the creativity and inspiration that one needs to invent or entertain? We need scientists, engineers and doctors, no doubt. But when convention fails them, where can they go without some good ol’ fashion ingenuity?

The call for more high stakes testing and harder tests has always been about the need for accountability in education. We must have some way to evaluate students, teachers, schools and Florida’s education system as a whole against their peers. Such have been the tenants of education reform nationwide.

And we’re not all the way there yet, either.

Florida remains in the process of moving its schools to tougher “common core” standards used in some 40 states already. And I understand the reasoning. Once everyone is shooting for the same target, and everyone’s progress toward the target is tracked closely, the cream will rise to the top, and everyone can model their school, district or state after those doing the best job.

Trouble is, the real world doesn’t work like that, which I thought was the whole point of the public education system — to prepare students for careers in the modern labor market. Because as soon as everyone gets on the same page, the paradigm shifts and we’re back to square one.

I’m not saying we should abolish a common set of standards. There’s value in ensuring that all children learn to read, write and perform basic math.

I’m just afraid our slavish adherence to teaching the FCAT is crowding out all the wonder and joy of learning.

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