Path to success

Our position: The latest FCAT results show the test is more gain than pain

May 3, 2006

The phenomenal reading scores third-graders posted on this year's Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test are further evidence that Gov. Jeb Bush's education reforms are working.

A record number of the state's third-graders are good readers, with 75 percent scoring at or above grade level. In 2001, only 57 percent of third-graders tested did that well. Blacks and Hispanics continued their dramatic improvement, further closing the learning gap with white students.

This is more than a political victory for Mr. Bush, whose A-Plus Plan for Education has been roundly attacked by Democrats, school administrators and the state teachers union. This is a bigger victory for Florida's children, who more than met the challenge of higher standards and raised expectations.

Indeed, these children are thriving.

The question now is whether these dramatic gains will be permanent and form a foundation for a lifetime of learning, or whether they will evaporate as these children move through the school system.

The FCAT remains under assault from those who argue that, despite the results, these tough standards and rigorous testing somehow hurt children. Indeed, the two leading Democrats running for governor -- U.S. Rep. Jim Davis and state Sen. Rod Smith -- have vowed to gut Mr. Bush's reforms if they are elected.

You've heard the arguments:

The test is unfair to minorities. Well, 61 percent of black third-graders tested at or above grade level, up from just 37 percent in 2001. Hispanics did even better, with 70 percent reading at grade level this year, compared with only 46 percent five years ago. This is why Florida is among the nation's leaders in closing the learning gap between white students and minority students.

Holding back third-graders who fail will wreck their self-esteem. Given that fewer third-graders than ever failed the test, this argument rings hollow. But what about those who were held back last year? Of the 14,410 students now repeating third grade because they failed the exam, 73 percent passed this year. Nothing builds self-esteem like success, and reading is the key to success in school. Children who learn to read by age 9 or fourth grade will do much better in later grades.

The letter grades schools earn based on these scores are demoralizing. Based on these results, you can expect the school grades will improve, as well. If they don't, then taxpayers will demand to know why. Schools will work even harder to earn those better grades. Students will continue to benefit.

The FCAT is not widely popular. Few tough challenges are, no matter how great the rewards.

Mr. Smith and Mr. Davis ought to look long and hard at these results before they decide to weaken Mr. Bush's reforms for the sake of political gain.

P.O. Box 566748, Miami, FL 33256