To unify curriculum and learning benchmarks, Florida State created the Sunshine State Standards, or SSS. These regulations outline what each student should learn during their current school year before being promoted to the next grade level. By adopting these standards, schools are better equipped to assign realistic goals to each student and teachers can concentrate on how to teach, rather than what to teach.
When the SSS committee created the criterion for each grade level, they considered the standards of other states, of their functioning school districts as well as the rising worldwide trends toward technology. A consortium of educators and those not in the field was formed to research and develop these standards from the ground up. Understanding that there may be a need for flexibility and future updates to the standards, the consortium made them in a fluid manner. Changes are made to the SSS nearly every year.
In 1998, the State of Florida enacted the FCAT, or Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test to gauge the knowledge of students and the effectiveness of the SSS. With the introduction of the FCAT, schools became accountable for teaching within the standard. Schools are graded annually based on performance of their students in grades 3 through 10. Schools with grades C and below must create and complete a plan of action to bring their average student body scores to a B or above.
Grades are earned by schools much as they are by students. Three factors contribute to the school grade: percentage of students tested, points earned and adequate progress in reading.
To receive a grade of A, a school must test at least 95% of registered students, score 410 or above and must meet the “adequate progress in reading” standard.
To receive a grade of B, a school must test at least 90% of eligible students, score 380 points or higher and meet adequate progress in reading within two years.
To receive a score of C, a school must test at least 90% of eligible students, score 320 points or higher and meet adequate progress in reading within two years.
To receive a score of D, a school must test 90% or more of eligible students and score 280 points or higher. Reading progress is not a factor for this unsatisfactory grade.
Schools receive an F score if they test less than 90% of eligible students or score fewer than 280 points.
Points are awarded for both gains in overall student scores as well as students tested.
One point is awarded for each percentage point of students meeting or exceeding standards in math, reading and writing
One point is awarded for each percentage point of students making gains in reading or math
One point is awarded for each percentage point of the lowest scoring readers making gains
One point is awarded for each percentage point of eligible students tested.
Points are summed up to reveal the school grade based on the scale above.
Assessments by Grade Level
While public school students in Florida are required to take FCAT each year, the test subjects vary. Tests of third grade students consist only of reading and math. Fourth, sixth, seventh and ninth graders take tests on reading, math and writing. Fifth graders are tested on reading, math and science. Eighth grade FCAT tests include reading, writing, math and science. Tenth graders are testing in reading, writing, math and science. Eleventh graders take a reading and math test.
Testing in the tenth grade is of particular interest. Beginning in the 2005-2006 school year, a student’s graduation from high school in Florida is dependant on their successful completion of FCAT testing in the tenth grade. Success is based on the Level system, below. Students scoring in Level 2 or below are given retake opportunities throughout eleventh and twelfth grades.
The progress of each student is traced throughout their educational career in Florida. At each grade level, beginning in third grade, their test scores receive a level of proficiency score.
Level 1 states that “This student has little success with the challenging content of the Sunshine State Standards.”
Level 2 states that “This student has limited success with the challenging content of the Sunshine State Standards.”
Level 3 states that “This student has partial success with the challenging content of the Sunshine State Standards, but the performance is inconsistent. A student scoring in Level 3 answers many of the test questions correctly, but is generally less successful with question that are the most challenging.” Tenth graders are required to score in Level 3 or above to be eligible for a regular high school diploma.
Level 4 states that “This student has success with the challenging content of the Sunshine State Standards. A student scoring in Level 4 answers most of the test questions correctly, but may have only some success with questions that reflect the most challenging content.”
Level 5 states that “This student has success with the most challenging content of the Sunshine State Standards. A student scoring in Level 5 answers most of the test questions correctly, including most of the challenging questions.”
Parents receive a report of student’s Level achievement in each test subject. In addition to easy to read charts and graphs depicting the student’s score and the average in that grade, the report shows the student’s success over time.