Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Thoughts on the FCAT from a Beginning Teacher

From the Star

Being a first year teacher and coming from an ESE and Pre-k background the FCAT was all new to me when I stepped into a 3-45 general education classroom. For years, of course, I have heard about the FCAT, Florida's state test, and actually participated in the test as a Sophomore in high school, I have not really had the chance to experience the FCAT in elementary school.

I want to begin by talking about when I was in high school - I can still vividly remember the stress that came with the test from a student's stand point. Knowing that I was an excellent student and that I always studied hard and tried my best, the thought that the FCAT could take away my chance of graduating scared me. Most students probably think it is a simple test with some multiple choice answers - how hard could it be? - but for students like me who do not do well on standardized tests (because there really is no way of truly studying and preparing for it), I was full of anxiety. My mother called it test anxiety. All I could think about while I was taking the test was if I don't pass this test my parents are going to kill me and I will never get into a good college!

While I didn't think elementary students could feel that kind of stress, I have seen firsthand some of the same anxieties in my students this year. For their age I feel that the pressure is too much and in the long term could be detrimental to those students, like me, who just do not perform well on standardized tests. I saw students who seemed distracted and who seemed to be second guessing themselves. Many of them seemed nervous and anxious.

From a first year teacher's stand point, I feel this year has been a stress mess! I remember when I called my mom to tell her I had this perfect job in this great elementary school in a multi-age class of 3rd, 4th and 5th graders, she said under her breath - oh no - what about the FCAT? I was too excited about getting my first teaching job to even think seriously about her comment!

The whole year I have heard teachers talking about the stresses and expectations of the FCAT and how they feel that they worry that they are missing important learning opportunities. Of course I really had no idea what they were talking about. I was in survival mode just trying to figure out what to teach each day! I was so excited about all the great and fun activities that I wanted to do with my 3rd, 4th and 5th graders. I wanted to promote learning through hands on fun activities. I thought my job was to teach children to love learning. However, while we still do some of those activities, I feel that the fun experiences are slim due to the fact that the time is now taken up with what the students have to cover before the FCAT. Instead of spending that time on relationships and individual learning needs, I fell like I am skipping and skating along with a bucket of facts that I am trying to cram into the children's heads. I have really struggled with this - especially when I watch my math class struggle through concepts because I need to get it all done rather than slow down and make sure they have the concepts thoroughly and completely. I have no time to really think about children loving learning because I have to stay with the pace if I want my students to know the majority of the tasks on the FCAT. With all of the requirements that are in the classroom now like 90 minutes of reading, 60 minutes of content, 60 minutes of writing and 60 minutes of math, there really is no time to intervene.

In reading I feel that the students are being pushed so hard that reading is almost no fun for them. Will they ever pick up a book just for pleasure? They are reading passages and answering questions that they may not even be interested in. Children cannot self-select reading passages even though studies show that students comprehension scores are much higher when the child gets to choose their own topics.

The last thing that I want to talk about is the loss of the content work. Even though I have never liked History and politics, I do understand how very important it is to an educated populace. It saddens me to know that many of my students have never heard of people like Rosa Parks and Susan B Anthony. This is just the beginning. The lack of map and geography skills is just awful. But... it's not on the test...

As a teacher and a professional learner I cannot say that I don't like the FCAT as a source of learning and assessment. It does have some advantages. However, I can just say that I don't like that it is the ONLY assessment that we look at for a child's progress and success. I feel that the learning process goes far beyond just one single standardized test.

What do you think?

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