In the next three years, students should get used to more writing during tests, even during math exams, and reading more complex passages that require close, analytical perusal.
It's all part of the state's shift toward the Common Core State Standards, which will be manifested most visibly when a new set of tests replaces the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests in math, reading and writing in 2015 for grades 3 to 11.
FCAT is being replaced by the new Partnership for Assessments of Readiness in College and Careers, or PARCC, testing, which is supposed to be harder, more comprehensive and use more digital media.
Highlands County School District's Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Becky Fleck believes the Common Core State Standards are a good thing for Florida students.
In the 2014-15 school year, more than 40 states, including Florida, will implement these curriculum goals that are intended to not only make education more aligned nationwide, prepare students for college, but to put the U.S. on par with the rest of the world.
Florida has adopted standards in eight subject areas: language arts (which includes reading and writing), science, math, social studies, visual and performing arts, physical education, health and foreign language.
Only reading, writing, science and math are assessed on the FCAT. FCAT testing for all subject areas, except science, will be replaced by PARCC assessments, where students will take a series of exams and the scores will be combined into one final mark.
For high school students, PARCC end-of-course math exams in algebra 1 and geometry will replace the state's end-of-course exams in those subjects. PARCC also will include an end-of-course exam in algebra 2.
Under the Common Core State Standards, Fleck explained, students have to read more complex passages, where they have to refer back to the reading, defend their responses or pick up information without having a background in that area.
"PARCC rewards careful, close reading rather than racing through passages," according to the 27-state consortium, and focuses on "words that matter most — not obscure vocabulary."
In math, students will be asked to show how they arrived at their answer, Fleck said.
The math tests aim to have a strong focus on important topics "instead of randomly sampling a mile-wide array of topics," according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Both exams will include some paper-and-pencil work but also lots of computer-based items, with students clicking, "dragging and dropping" and shading text, among other options.
Another example illustrates the changes the Common Core State Standards bring, although kindergarteners are not tested under the FCAT. Kindergartners will need to count up to 100, starting at any number. And they will need to be able to count backward, too, starting at 10.
Right now, they must be able to count to 20 out loud, in writing, and using objects, while under the old state standards, they needed to count from 1 to 36.
Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, said the Common Core standards "gets us in the right direction," the Sentinel reports.
But he said most of the teachers union's criticism of FCAT is not about the test but about "how the test is used." Those complaints likely would remain, if the new tests continue to be used to make high-stakes decisions.
A news release from the Florida Department of Education states that under PARCC, a series of assessments throughout the year will be averaged into one score for accountability purposes, "reducing the weight given to a single test administered on a single day, and providing valuable information to students and teachers throughout the year."