UNF education graduates’ students pass the FCAT

Joseph Basco

By: Joseph Basco

UNF education degree graduates are likely to teach well, at least in regards to their students passing the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT.

According to a recent report by the Florida Department of Education, 78 percent of UNF graduates teaching for the first time made student learning gains.

The gains are defined by the Florida Department of Education as “50 percent or more of students improving FCAT scores year-to-year.” The data looked at the changes from 2009 to 2010.

UNF was ranked fifth among all Florida colleges and universities, and first among state universities. The University of Tampa, a private school, took first place with 100 percent student learning growth. The University of Miami, Miami-Dade College and Barry University, all private schools, ranked second through fourth.

Larry Daniel, the dean of the UNF College of Education and Human Services, was pleased with the result.

“We do feel that our students are leading the pack, so to speak, as far as ability to produce learning in the children that they serve,” he said.

Katie Fleming, a UNF education junior, also thinks highly of UNF’s ranking.

“It makes me proud to be in the program,” Fleming said.

The report has its limitations. The test is administered to students in grades three to eleven. UNF graduates could be teaching students in untested grades. Graduates could also be working for a private school, where the FCAT is not administered.

Moreover, the FCAT was not originally designed to gauge teacher performance.

Despite its shortcomings, Daniel believes the FCAT is the best tool educators have.

“As flawed as it may be, having a data source is better than having no data source,” Daniel said.

First implemented in 1998, the standardized test gauges students’ mathematics, reading, science, and writing abilities. The Florida Department of Education is now transitioning to a new test, dubbed FCAT 2.0.

Deborah Higgins, an information specialist at the Florida Department of Education, said the transition was for new, more rigorous standards known as the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards.

The FCAT has long been a topic of controversy. As with any standardized test, students are required to memorize information while under pressure.

Teacher performance is analyzed based on students’ scores. This could encourage teachers to focus more on the FCAT than material they are meant to teach.

All of these problems could lead to cheating.

According to numerous news sources, about 7,000 tests from 14 school districts, including Duval County, were cited by an independent security agency early in 2011 for having many erasure marks.

Higgins had an update on the investigation.

“At this point, the Department of Education is still working on analyzing all the information concerning the data forensics Caveon performed for the department,” Higgins said. “No final decision has been made as it relates to schools who are still under investigation.”

Regarldess of the FCAT, Fleming has an optimistic outlook as she plans to teach at a Florida public school after graduation.

“If we’re learning the right ways to teach, students are going to automatically do better,” Fleming said.

Daniel also has a positive outlook of aspiring educators.

“We need qualified, talented people to come into the field,” Daniel said. “Despite a lot of negative press that teaching gets, it’s still an incredibly wonderful occupation and one of the best opportunities to influence society.”