Panel: Florida Test Accommodations Need Major Improvements

K-12 Testing

Students with special needs should be able to use the same accommodations they are allowed in their schoolwork when taking the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), according to a state panel. Beginning with the class of 2003, all Florida students must pass the FCAT in order to receive a diploma.


State rules allow students with disabilities such as blindness or dyslexia to use accommodations such as books on tape, talking calculators or computer software when doing class work. Many of these students have been able to learn on pace with classmates and graduate using these methods. Other than Braille tests and extended testing time, however, FCAT allows none of the accommodations frequently employed in class. Last year thousands of learning disabled students failed the test.


The outcry caused by the high failure rates led Governor Jeb Bush to appoint a Task Force to recommend changes to the FCAT. Reed Martin, a lawyer who helped force changes to Texas’ accommodations policies, told the panel that if Florida doesn’t change the way it tests special education students a lawsuit will eventually force it to make those changes.


Lawsuits elsewhere have been successful. After 91% of special education students failed the California High School Exit Exam, a federal judge ordered officials to allow the same accommodations for disabled test takers that would be allowed in their class work. The state was also told to create an alternative assessment for the students who need it (see Examiner, Spring 2002). Among the changes the Florida task force recommended are increased accommodations, allowing students to take the test on computers, or for those who are unable to complete the test in other ways, the use of alternative assessments and teacher panels to review students' class work. Once the panel’s report is final it will be forwarded to the Florida Board of Education in January.