The purpose of this paper is to identify a performance gap in Florida elementary schools based on the results of FCAT. FCAT is Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. It is a state-wide form of assessment of all Florida students, excluding 1% of students with the most serious disabilities (FDOE, 2014). This paper will also provide the position of the author on the role of standardized test data in the context of investigating the identified gap and with reference to the curriculum. The paper will also provide an informed perspective of alternative data collection among the students whose low scores are the reason of the achievement gap.
As for the performance gaps, a few significant performance gaps can be identified based on FCAT results (including the categories of minority students, high poverty students, level of English, etc). Notably, the performance gap between the FCAT results of the children with special needs and students without disabilities can be easily seen (Trexler, 2013). The research shows that the majority of disabled students (but for the students with speech ad vision disabilities) had significantly fewer scores than is needed for the proficiency level. They have had the results that are much lower than the results of the students from the general education group (Trexler, 2013) (See Table 1. Results in Reading. Grade 4.). Thus, the data taken from the FCAT proves that children who are seriously disabled lag behind their non-disabled peers in Florida elementary schools. Based on this, the hypothesis of the study will be:
High stakes testing of elementary students with disabilities results in negative consequences for the students with disabilities. To assess these students appropriately, a modified system of assessment needs to be used.
The standardized test data has been helpful when analyzing the existing gap between disabled and non-disabled students. Besides, it provides numerical proof of the students’ achievements and allows comparing it with the results of other student categories. With reference to the curriculum, standardized test data helps trace the results of all students in the United States. Additionally, the standardized testing aids the curriculum by creating a level field for all stakeholders and creating a uniform mode of assessment based on test results. At the same time, it has been recognized an inadequate form of assessment even for the mainstream students (Howell et al, 2006). So, the use of the same tests to assess the levels of proficiency in children with different types of disabilities and children who receive general education is not reasonable based on the inherent physical and developmental differences between the two groups.
Absence of adequate modified system of assessment for students with disabilities is a serious gap in assessment practices. It is reasonable to claim that a more appropriate modified assessment system will help attain more accurate performance measurement of the children with special needs. One of the biggest problems with FCAT is that it shows low results for the students with disabilities. This leads to further stigmatization of this group of students as the one who fail to improve their grade levels. While this stigmatization is unjust, it also prevents the disabled students from getting real special education services. Also, careful analysis of the assessment practices with reference to the use of standardized tests in reports of the general student population performance shows the need to stop this joint reporting. The author agrees with Trexler (2013), who wrote that it is necessary to disaggregate students with disabilities and analyze their performance by categorical differences. This will help collect the information in order to fill a gap in the research as well as inform educational policy and decisions, educational best practices, relevant instructional grouping, adequate professional development, reasonable interventions, ongoing brain research, and it will help guide instruction. Thus, such approach will result in increased achievement for the disabled students.
- Florida Department of Education (2014). Assessment and school performance. Retrieved from Florida Department of Education. (n.d.b). http://www.fldoe.org/faq/default.asp?Dept=179&ID=977#Q977.
- Howell, W., Peterson, P., Wolf, P., Campbell, D. (2006). The education gap: Vouchers and urban schools. Brookings Institution.
- Trexler, E. (2013). Categorical differences in statewide standardized testing scores of students with disabilities (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Keiser University, Fort Lauderdale, FL.