S: Today is March 9, 2005, and I am in an interview with Mr. Calsam, who is the
C: Assistant Principal for Curriculum and FCAT Coordinator, it's part of that job.
S: For Buchholz High School. Mr. Calsam, how did you get started in education?
C: It's been a long time. I was inspired by some of my high school and middle
school teachers. In the late 1970s I went to the University of Florida College of
Education and got started in 1979 in the classroom.
S: How does Buchholz High compare to your last high school?
C: Previously, my high school was Gainesville High for a year. Buchholz is larger,
has a little different student population, a little different parent population, and
has done better traditionally on tests like FCAT than Gainesville High has.
S: In light of all the magnet programs circulating around the county, what types of
students are brought to Buchholz?
C: Our geographic zone is pretty middle and upper-middle class for the most part.
We do have some students that are at lower socio-economic groups, about
twenty-five percent probably. With magnet programs we bring in all kinds of
students from around the district. We have students that are zoned from every
school in the district, so we have them from rural to inner city.
S: Can you explain exactly what your position entails?
C: As the Assistant Principal for Curriculum, I am involved with scheduling, both
master schedule and student schedules. [I am in charge of the] purchase of
textbooks, scheduling of rooms, test monitoring, help[ing] develop the schedule
for FCAT testing, and anything else that we have to do like that. I also do most of
the hiring of teachers for the school.
S: The FCAT was implemented in 1998, and became the leading assessment in
Florida. What methods does the state require the school go through in order to
prepare for the exam?
C: The state has developed a series of standards called the Sunshine State
Standards. Each course in the core areas has a set of Sunshine State Standards
that teachers are expected to teach and students are expected to learn. We
emphasize those standards very heavily. We ask that teachers document that
they have taught those standards and that they have assessed students on those
standards prior to getting into FCAT. We have some specific classes geared
towards students who have struggled with FCAT in the past at their elementary
and middle school level, and we put students in those classes and focus primarily
on those FCAT skills.
S: So do you feel that the FCAT adequately assesses the Sunshine State
C: I think it adequately assesses the Sunshine State Standards. I'm not sure that it's
the best measure of how our students are doing, but I do think it does assess the
Sunshine State Standards very well.
S: How does the FCAT compare to the HSCT?
C: It's a much more involved type of test. Multiple choice was the format for the High
School Competency Test, for HSCT. On the FCAT there's different types of
questions; they have to do a little more reasoning, a little more writing. It's higher
order, more critical thinking involved in the FCAT than it was on the HSCT.
S: What preparation do you give the teachers at Buchholz, specifically for FCAT
C: Each year we meet with the department chairs [and] administration, and then we
ask them to have their teachers focus on certain standards that we've looked at
based on previous years tests scores, areas that we didn't do well in, whether it's
in reading or math. We ask the teachers in all subject areas to work on those
standards, to help improve students reading skills, comprehension skills,
whatever it might be.
S: Have you noticed an increase in student performance since 1998?
C: [There's been a] definite improvement since 1998. The first year or two students
was a new
So we've all
as far as that
goes. I think
S: Do the demographics and the economic status of students have an effect on the
C: I think there's no question that the low SES students struggle more with
standardized tests in general, not just the FCAT. Whether it's the fact that they've
got to spend so much time worrying about survival skills, where their next meal is
coming from, how to get to school, and other issues in the home, I'm not sure
exactly how it plays together, but if you look at the data, low-SES students
definitely struggle more with standardized testing than middle and upper-middle
class students do.
S: How is the school attempting to fix this problem?
C: Again, we focus some specific classes on students that have shown a history of
struggling with the FCAT and with standardized tests, and we try to teach them
the skills there. We also have a very strong parent organization here at Buchholz.
We had about 100,000 volunteer hours here at Buchholz last year among our
parents. We have some of those folks who work directly with students one on
one, we have a strong mentoring program for students that struggle, and we
have provided some before school and after school opportunities for students to
come in and get some extra practice on FCAT. So we're working to try and level
the playing field as much as we can.
S: That's good. I was going to ask, are all these mentoring or extra tutoring hours
before, after, or during class?
C: All of the above. We do a lot before school and after school, but some of the
mentors come in during the day-especially lunch-and talk to the students. [They]
sit down with them and talk about life in general in a lot of cases just because
they may not have someone at home that they can do that with.
S: Teachers, principals, and students, they are confronted with a lot of other needs
aside from just the FCAT, so how do you prepare everybody for it since it does
take a whole week out of school time?
C: One of the biggest things we have to try and overcome is student anxiety. We
work with the teachers to try and reduce that anxiety level as much as possible.
We want them to reassure the students that yes, this is a high stakes
assessment, yes it is important to the school and to the students, but that all they
can do is relax and do their best and focus on the task at hand. [We] try to take
as much of the pressure off as we can and let them focus on the task at hand,
whether its math testing or reading testing or whatever it might be.
S: Have you found that to be effective?
C: It has worked for us pretty well. It does alleviate some of that pressure that
students feel. They say, Oh my God, we have this huge test coming up. It's in
the newspaper, its on the TV, its on the radio-everybody's talking about it. But by
saying, okay, we understand all that pressure is there, [but] this is not the only
opportunity you're going to have to pass this test. You're going to have some
other chances; do the best you can do [and] focus as much as you can. We hope
that you do well this time around, but if we have to, we'll do it again next year.
S: How much pressure does the community place on the school due to the school
C: It's a large amount of pressure, that's for sure. Real estate values are tied to
school grades in some areas. Parents want their students, obviously, to go to the
highest graded school they can find. So if you're not an 'A' school, there's a lot of
pressure on us to find out why we're not an 'A' school and fix it. Buchholz was
an 'A' school four years in a row, last year we fell to a 'B.' So, there was a
renewed emphasis on what we need to do to get us back to that 'A' level. There's
a lot of pressure from the community for us to be an 'A' school.
S: The FCAT has experienced much criticism over the years. Do you feel that some
of these critiques are true?
C: I do. I think that to place so much emphasis on one test makes the rest of the
educational process seem like it's just filler. If all it takes to get a high school
diploma is to pass the FCAT, that's not really a good measure of how the schools
are doing overall. We need to look at other factors involved and include them in
school grades, in my opinion. We need to look at graduation rates, we need to
look at where students end up going to college, how many of our students are
going directly to a four-year college, and what kinds of colleges they are going to.
We have kids that are going to some of the most highly ranked colleges in the
country; we've got students at Brown, Stanford, North Carolina, and MIT, and
the University of Florida is no slouch either, its not easy to get in there. So in
addition to just this test, I think there's a lot of other factors that need to be
considered when you're judging how well a school is doing.
S: I had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Lucas over at the school board, and he was
telling me that since the FCAT is based on the Sunshine State Standards, and
our curriculum is based on the Sunshine State Standards, my question to you is,
how can this test still not adequately judge student performance?
C: You're looking at a very narrow curriculum, in my opinion, when you're teaching
the Sunshine State Standards. It's going to measure those minimums in areas
like an English class or a Math class, but it's not going to measure those students
that are going above and beyond. We've got kids that are taking second year
Calculus, FCAT math to them is nothing. On the other hand, I've got students
who are handicapped in some way, and for them to pass FCAT might be an
unrealistic goal because the curriculum and the accommodations we can make
may not put them in a position to be able to pass the FCAT. I think to measure
the curriculum based on Sunshine State Standards is fine, but I think that is a
very narrow range. There's so much beyond that, that makes a school a good
school that you can't measure that with FCAT.
S: Is the FCAT unfair to minority students?
C: That question has been debated and will continue to be debated, I'm sure. I think
that any student that has a narrower range of experiences is going to struggle on
these sorts of tests. Whether it's SAT or FCAT or whatever it might be. I'm not
sure if minority students in particular are singled out, but again, any student
whose experiences are not broad enough to help them in this kind of an arena
are going to have a more difficult time with FCAT.
S: How are the teacher's broadening their experiences?
C: Well, there's only so much you can do in the classroom. They do try to expose
students to as much knowledge and information as they can. They relate their
own experiences, other students in the classes try to relate their experiences, but
some things you just can't learn in a classroom, that's all there is to it.
S: Does FCAT preparation take time out of the classroom for the teachers?
C: I think with the emphasis on FCAT preparation, it does take away from other
things that could be done in the classroom, beyond FCAT. FCAT's important,
there's no question, and the Sunshine State Standards are an important factor of
what goes on, but I think there's so much beyond those that we can do in
classrooms, that all this time we spend preparing for FCAT kind of hurts us in
S: The school board actually said they do not encourage specific FCAT preparation,
do you find that teachers still go ahead and do that?
C: There's still a lot of pressure on the teachers, especially when there's money tied
to it. I mean when a school can get $250,000. If you've got a lot of students and
they pass the FCAT, there's a lot of pressure to prepare for FCAT and there's a
lot of pressure to get that 'A' grade. There's a lot of pressure to ensure that your
students are doing their part to get the school to that point where they can earn
an 'A' grade. So I think there may not be any direct pressure from the school
board, or even from me, but teachers feel that pressure.
S: Do you specifically ask the teachers to endure FCAT preparation and take away
time from other classroom instruction?
C: We ask them to do the best job they can do preparing students to take [the]
FCAT or any kind of standardized tests that we're giving, and to do the best job
they can with the rest of their curriculum in the classroom as well.
S: What do you feel is the best way to prepare the students?
C: I think to teach them-and this is going to be a continuing process from the time
they enter school until the time they leave school-to teach them the skills to take
the test, the knowledge base that they need to be able do well on a test, and to
learn some strategies on how to deal with pressure that they are going to
encounter when they do this test every year from the third grade to the tenth
grade, or beyond if they don't pass it in tenth grade.
S: How much of the school evaluation system is based on the FCAT?
C: A huge part of the school evaluation system comes] from [the] FCAT. Not only
the absolute score that we make, but also the annual growth is measured. It's not
just the fact that eighty percent might pass math, we also have to look at the
lowest quartile of students and how they progress from ninth grade to tenth
grade, or eighth grade to ninth grade, what ever it might be. So [the] FCAT is a
major focus when it comes to school evaluation.
S: I understand Buchholz High scored a 'B' on the last school assessment. What
measures are you guys taking to increase this grade, considering especially you
had received an 'A' the past four years.
C: Our major focus this year has been on that lowest quartile. We did a great job for
years with those kids that came into us, you know the average kid, and they did
well. We neglected that lowest quartile, and our focus this year has been on that
group to make sure that they are not being left behind. We want to get involved in
helping them to develop the skills they need to grow. We may not have any
higher percentage pass, but we would certainly like to see that year's worth of
growth that they can do, because some of them are starting very low, and to
show that year's worth of growth is what we're aiming for.
S: Alachua County, from what I was told, is one of the poorest counties in the state.
C: Tax based, right?
S: Tax based, yes, and funding is directly linked to FCAT as a result of this. Do you
think it's a fair system?
C: I think there's a lot of things that the legislature could do to fix the funding for
schools in the state of Florida, and I think they're exploring some options, this
legislative session they are going to look at some options. Obviously some place
that has a really high tax base is going to have more money to pay teachers and
they are going to have more things, more stuff that they that they can do,
computer programs--whatever it might be--than some of the schools in Alachua
county. Buchholz is in a pretty good position. We have a very strong advanced
placement program and we earn quite a bit of money from that, so we're able to
keep up with the technology, to keep up with the latest curriculum and those
sorts of things. Some of the other schools in the district aren't that fortunate, they
don't have those advantages that we do, and I think it's difficult for them to be
able to compete with the school's that do have the good stuff.
S: Can you describe the relationship between Buchholz and the school board?
C: In what way, I'm not sure [what you're asking]?
S: I guess, for the purpose of this interview, FCAT. But in general, is it a good
relationship, or bad?
C: I think we have a pretty strong relationship with the folks at the school board. I
mean the school board members themselves are pretty good about visiting
schools and seeing what's going on and getting feedback from teachers and
administrators and even from parents and students about what they see are
strong points in the schools and what are some of the weaknesses that need to
be addressed. In addition, the folks that work at the school board office, the
administration building, are very involved in helping the schools to look for new
curriculum, to develop what we have to find new ways to train the teachers, to
find better methods to teach the students to do well on not just [the] FCAT, but
improve the curriculum overall.
S: How much does the school board help with FCAT preparation, especially with the
C: They are very good about providing in-service training for teachers to be able to
develop new methods, new strategies to work with students. They're pretty good
about helping us with new educational programs. They've got programs like
Read 180, which is a program designed to help lower students read at a higher
level so that they can do better on not just FCAT, but in life in general. That
seems to be the biggest focus is reading right now. If students can't read, it's
hard for them to do well on the reading test, or on the science test or in their
social studies classroom or whatever. So that's the focus right now, and they've
done a good job of providing us with opportunities for our teachers to grow and
develop in that area.
S: This whole idea of having a state standardized test has been the trend of
education and spread to other states. Administrators and people in government
love this idea, but the average American, especially in this state, may have major
problems with the FCAT. Why is that?
C: Well, I think, one of the things that I see is that your high school diploma is based
on this one test. Some students are not going to be prepared to take that test in
the tenth grade. A student who comes in at a high reading level with strong
science and math background, probably won't have a difficult time with that at all.
A student who comes in the ninth grade and is taking the lowest level class in
math and the lowest level class in English, is going to have a much more difficult
time. I think they look at the fairness of the situation [and ask], are we really
measuring what we need to measure? Those students that are doing well, we
know are going to do well; there's no question that they'll pass FCAT. It's that
struggling group, and I think that they see that perhaps that we need to spend
more time preparing those students, whether it's just at the high school or at in
the middle schools or in the elementary. My personal take is we need to start as
early as we can preparing the students to give them as much opportunity to pass
The other thing is you're just taking a reading test, or you're just taking a
math test-you're not measuring whether you know anything about geometry, or
whether you know anything about a particular piece of literature, or whether you
know anything about history. I think in some states-especially North Carolina
comes to mind, New York comes to mind-they have end of the year exams in a
particular course. [They have] a state wide test in American History or whatever,
and I think some folks view that might be a more advantageous way to go
because you spend a year preparing for American History and then you can take
that test at the end of the year to determine whether or not you have mastered
S: This leads directly into my last question, how would you make the FCAT better?
C: How would I make the FCAT better... I think I might give it a year later than it's
given now, junior year as opposed to sophomore year, to give students a little
more time to prepare, and I think I might make it a little more subject specific, as
opposed to just reading and just math. And [I would] not just add science, but
add biology, add a chemistry if you need a chemistry. [I would] make it subject
specific more than it is now. We want to measure how our history teachers are
doing, let's give them a history test-American History, or World History, or
Government, whatever it might be. But I think I would like to see us lean more
towards an end of the year exam, a Regents type of exam, as opposed to what
we're doing right now.
S: Okay, pretty much those are all the questions I have for you. Do you have
anything else that you feel I haven't addressed?
C: No, I think we've covered a lot of ground there. I think that's okay.
S: Well, that's it, thank you very much.
[End of Interview]