Clewiston High School principals voice concerns over new state exam

After the Florida Department of Education announced they had chosen the organization that will create the test to replace the FCAT in the 2014/15 school year, concerns have arisen over the replacement exam and what it will mean for Florida’s students.
Clewiston High School’s Principal George Duckstein and Assistant Principal Roberto Sanchez both weighed in on the upcoming test and what it will mean for students in Hendry County and around the state.
Their main concerns lie in the few years that will follow the roll out of the new test, including whether or not the new test will count towards the school accountability grade, student’s graduation requirements and teachers’ salaries.
The new test, which will align to the new Florida state standards, will be “a lot more challenging” and much more “rigorous,” according to Assistant Principal Sanchez.
Even if the test is similar, students will have to answer the questions in a different manner than in the past. Whereas before students merely answered multiple choice questions, students may be required to show their work on the new test to demonstrate their level of understanding, instead of merely recalling or memorizing information, said Mr. Sanchez.
This falls in line with the new state standards, which endeavor to teach students concepts with a deeper level of understanding using modern technology and infusing more writing into each subject area.
The probability of the test being longer in length is also quite high, said Mr. Sanchez, surpassing the 140-minute FCAT.
Another great concern of the two principals is the fact that the test will not be piloted in Florida before it is rolled out. The test, said Mr. Sanchez, is being piloted in Utah, a state with far different demographics than Florida.
“That’s a concern we have,” said Mr. Sanchez. “It would have been better to field test it in Florida.”
Principal Duckstein joined in on the discussion.
“We’re hoping, next year, that they don’t count the new test toward school grades,” said Principal Duckstein. “That’s currently in negotiations.”
This is Principal Duckstein’s first year at Clewiston High School. His hope of raising last year’s D grade could be hampered next year by the change in exams.
“When people see the results next year and kids do worse, we just hope the parents understand that they are two vastly different assessments,” said Mr. Sanchez.
“We’re concerned about students and their confidence levels if there’s a big shift in grades between the two tests,” added Principal Duckstein.
Confidence levels may not be the only things affected when it comes to students and the new test: next year’s 10th graders will be required to not only take the test, but pass it in order to graduate high school.
It is for this reason both Principal Duckstein and Assistant Principal Sanchez would like to see a “waiver year,” where the new test is introduced but not counted towards graduation requirements — nor the school grade or teachers’ salaries for that matter. (Current 10th and 11th graders will be able to retake the FCATs next year if they do not pass them this year.)
Not only do the principals’ concerns lie with the students, they also lie with the teachers who will be required to go through training to align their classroom material with the new state standards and assessment.
“Teachers need time to train,” said Mr. Sanchez, citing that it is difficult for teachers to prepare students for one exam one year and then shift to prepare students for a different exam the next year. “But teachers are people who work really hard and will rise to the occasion. They will put in an extraordinary amount of effort beyond their contractual time to rise to the occasion,” he said.
Principal Duckstein added that their concerns are merely “short term concerns,” for the few short years following the roll out when everyone is getting used to the exam.
“Our students are striving to be successful and they’re doing a great job,” said Principal Duckstein.

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