A $220 million, six year contract to redesign Florida's FCAT tests has been given to the Washington based non-profit American Institute for Research by the Florida State Department of Education. AIR's redesign will not only assess student achievement, proficiency, and skills, but will also play a part in the evaluation of teachers, principals and schools.
Using the AIR test students will respond in different ways than on traditional tests," according to the state Department of Education website. "New question types will assess students' higher-order thinking skills in keeping with the higher expectations of the Florida Standards.
Stewart added that the new series would include critical thinking and analytical skills, an 11th grade language arts test and an algebra 2 exam. Although the new testing will take a little longer, the test will be given later in the year, leaving more contiguous teaching time in place before the regular classroom routine is interrupted by test-taking.
The new assessment will be ready for the 2014-2015 testing period and will be given on paper and online, the beginning of the end for paper and pencil assessment tests.
Educators predict that the change to a test that minimizes multiple choice questions and increases contrasting, comparing, and creating, will lower students' scores dramatically. The decision to end administering the FCAT test, however, was a necessary one, since the FCAT was aligned with Florida's former standards and not with the new Common Core paradigm. Although Florida had initially voted to choose the Partnership for Assessment of College and Career Readiness (PARCC) assessment test, it withdrew from that partnership based on the cost per student. The savings from adopting the AIR assessment came to $1.94 per student, and rumblings that the PARCC had elements of "government overreaching" had also been heard.
Common Core standards, now called Florida Standards, are to be fully in place by next school year. They have been adopted by most states as part of a nationwide effort to improve public education. But they are controversial, with critics arguing they are weaker than Florida's old standards and represent federal intrusion into public education.
AIR has already made a name for itself in Florida by way of the complex teacher evaluation tool it created for the state. The company also has assessment testing contracts in nine other states. A five member team made the choice to use AIR because its testing was scheduled for later in the school year and it did not require extensive field testing.
Florida students will continue to take the FCAT science exam.