This spring's uproar over the FCAT has apparently reached Gov. Rick Scott's ears.
The governor on Friday said he is talking with state education leaders, district superintendents and teachers about possibly changing the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, saying schools might be doing too much of a good thing when it comes to student testing.
His remarks, made in North Florida during a conference of newspaper editors from five Southern states, come amid an unprecedented public backlash against the state's signature standardized test and as school districts await the result of controversial changes to scoring for school grades.
In April, the Palm Beach County School Board became the first school board in the state to sign onto a resolution opposing over-reliance on high-stakes testing.
In signing the resolution, county school board members said they've received many complaints from parents, students and teachers who say the emphasis on testing puts too much stress on students and interferes with class time and instruction. Since then, the Florida School Boards Association and a number of other school districts have also signed onto the resolution.
"We totally believe in accountability, in holding everyone accountable," school board member Chuck Shaw said Friday. "I think the mistake with the FCAT … is all teachers did all day long was get kids ready for that test."
Also this spring, the state was inundated with grievances after a surprise announcement in May of dismal scores on the writing FCAT that forced the state to lower the bar on the test to reduce the number of students who did not pass.
As newspaper editorials across the state questioned the FCAT's validity, the Florida Department of Education responded by launching an FCAT call center, online forum and email address for parents to air their concerns about the test.
On Friday, Scott said the state received more parent complaints this year than in past years, especially about the FCAT.
"Parents and taxpayers expect measurement," Scott said. "We've got to measure, we've to find out who the best schools are.
"We have to have a good measurement system," he added, "but we have to make sure we don't have too much of it."
He conceded that between the FCAT, federal testing and end-of-course exams, students might be tested too much. He said he is talking to officials and teachers about what changes should be made.
"What was his first clue?" county school board vice chairwoman Debra Robinson said when asked about Scott's comments that there might be too much testing. She later added, "I'm glad to hear the light is coming on.
"It's like a testing megathon," she said. "Apparently, someone thinks the more tests you give, that education becomes better."
Robinson said she is all for accountability, and believes there is a place for testing and an importance to having data about student achievement. But, she said too much emphasis has been placed on testing in Florida, so much so that it narrows the curriculum because so much time is spent preparing kids for the tests.
"The purpose of testing has gotten shifted in this high-stakes environment," Robinson said. "We need to step back and look at the big picture and say, ‘How do we do this better?' "
Scott's comments on Friday come as school districts throughout the state anxiously await the release of A-t0-F school grades, which are expected to drop this year following a slew of changes to the grading formula. The grades for elementary and middle schools could be released as early as this week.
In an attempt to preempt parent rumbling over the lowered grades, Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson sent a letter this week to parents urging them not to worry if their school's grade drops this year. He noted that each time in the past the state has "increased expectations" on school grades by revising the formula — this is the fifth time since 1999 it has done so — grades have dropped temporarily, then improved over time.
Board member Shaw speculated that Scott has seen the drop in school grades and "saw how bad they are and now is regrouping and realizing this is a problem."