Toward a Better State Science Test?

By Sean Cavanagh — June 05, 2009 1 min read
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This opinion piece, published in Florida’s Gainesville Sun, explores some of the issues that worry science educators about the high-stakes testing movement. Brandon Haught, a spokesman for Florida Citizens for Science, argues that the design of Florida’s state science tests, and way test results are used, aren’t promoting good teaching and learning in that subject.

At a glance, Florida seems like an unlikely locale for a science advocate to make that argument. Just last year, Florida approved new science standards, which despite a major tussle over the teaching of evolution, won general praise from the scientific community for their broad and deep approach to science. Another fact in Florida’s favor: Florida uses science test scores for state accountability purposes, which I believe makes it one of only a few.

Haught, whose organization was heavily involved in the evolution fight, argues that scores from Florida’s science test, which is currently given at grades 5, 8, and 11, should also be used in determining whether students are retained in a grade and whether they graduate. They don’t now. As a result, he argues, schools are continually “scrambling to find ways to motivate students to take the test seriously and to even show up in the first place.”

He also says that the science tested at various grade levels on the FCAT, as the state’s test is known, is too broad. Teachers wind up rushing to cover certain science topics, out of sequence, Haught says. In addition, the test is more about reading comprehension than understanding science, he contends. This is a common complaint about testing, across subjects.

What do you make of Haught’s concerns about the science FCAT? Do other states’ tests have similar flaws, in your view?

UPDATE: See Haught’s comment, below. He says I misunderstood one of his points, and that he’s not arguing for using the FCAT science for retention/graduation purposes. He says he would merely like to see the 11th grade science test replaced with an end-of-course exam. He explains this in more detail in a blog post found in his comment.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.