Analyzing the Effects of FCAT Explorer Usage on FCAT Results

Society changes with time and circumstances; nevertheless, some things always remain a priority as well as a necessity. Education is among the steady factors influencing peoples’ environments and conditions; however, there are newcomers such as technology who have become just as important as those traditional values. Advancements made in the technological field have given people different possibilities and opportunities to learn and communicate which have eventually change the way educational tools are used.

As a result of the No Child Left behind Act, states and schools have become obliged to follow students’ progress, as well as to measure their learning gains and performance, in comparison to those of other students. Education is no longer about individual results nor is only important to teachers, it has turn into an issue of great deal to government agencies, businesses, researches, and law makers which puts pressure on academic achievement and literacy levels. Each state has to evaluate their students according to a set of standards that indicate what has to be learnt and accomplished, the standards also have to be taught within the curriculum and represent the grade level.

In Florida, the test given to all students and that it evaluates their academic achievement of the Sunshine State Standards, is the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test or FCAT. The importance the FCAT has in schools not only refers to the educational reason behind this test but also the financial consequences its results may have over a school or district; in addition, in certain grade levels the promotion or retention of a student happens according to the grade received on the test. Florida has used computer and web based programs such as FCAT Explorer, TeenBiz and Reading Plus to provide additional support to students for the FCAT; also, through this tool students are able to practice and improve their skills in reading, mathematics, science and other subjects.

In a study made by Trey Martindale, Carolyn Pearson, L.K Curda and Janet Pilcher, the effects of FCAT Explorer usage in grades fourth, fifth, eight and tenth were evaluated and analyzed for both reading and mathematics FCAT scores. The purpose was to examine if there was any significant difference among the results achieved by students who used the program and those who did not, as well as to observe the impact technology has over high stake standardized tests in public elementary and high schools.

The schools that participated in the study shared same characteristics like being part of same district, school size and performance grade assigned by state; they were also selected according to the usage or non-usage of FACT Explorer and basing on their scores on the FCAT in 2001 and 2002 for reading and mathematics. In the experiment, only students who showed or did not show data for FCAT Explorer in both 2001 and 2002 were included; in addition, the study included fourth grade reading and fifth, eight and tenth grade mathematics.

The research showed that students in the Elementary schools who used FCAT Explorer had significantly higher scores than those who did not use the program, especially for Fourth grade Reading and Fifth grade mathematics; however, the eight and tenth grade results showed no significant difference among those students who used and those who did not use FCAT Explorer. These findings conclude that there is an impact on FCAT Explorer usage in the Elementary level but no significant weight on Secondary grades. However, many would agree that the research does not include the instructional time given to FCAT Explorer use, as well as the quantity time assigned for each task or practiced items, which can have an influence on the results obtained by Elementary grade students.

Differences among results obtained in secondary and elementary levels could be due to different reasons. Availability of computers in the classrooms, ratio of student to computer and students’ individual level could be some of the causes for results; another explanation could be the diversity among students including those with disabilities, LEP or minorities and the importance a particular teacher places on the use of the program, which can be a huge influence in academic outcomes. Students’ value of FCAT Explorer could be different in both Elementary and Secondary levels, in addition to the diverse level of parental involvement there could be in each grade.

Many would agree that computer or web based programs and educational software could be a great support for students to practice their skills and abilities, in addition to the fact that technology seems appealing and interesting to children, and is becoming more everyday as part of society. Programs like FCAT Explorer offer another perspective and different way of acquiring knowledge and improving understanding of certain topics, and since is align with the benchmarks from the Sunshine State Standards and classroom curriculum, is not only useful for practicing FCAT but everyday material and strategies. Furthermore, web programs allow communication from administrators, parents and students to be easier; moreover, various learning styles could be accommodated and that way students could be reached from other perspectives, also it gives space for feedback, practice, pacing, space for research and individualization.

Some of the conclusions drawn from this study are: FCAT Explorer usage as an educational tool may considerably benefit students and give them opportunity to practice and improve their learning skills; it also provides room for teachers to use their material in a different way and target FCAT strategies outside of the classroom instructional time; it has showed to be more used by Elementary schools nevertheless it does not mean that it could be less useful for Secondary grades; it gives ample chances for various learning styles to be supported and students with disabilities find other ways to practice their abilities. However, difficulty accessing computers, low socioeconomic status, lack of school resources, little parental involvement and students disabilities may make more difficult the students to enjoy this opportunity to develop their capabilities.


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