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    Letters to the Editors

    FCAT helps to make sure that students can read


    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 24, 2003

    Re: A's no measure of FCAT success, Jan. 21.

    I strongly support the use of the FCAT even though it results in a few aberrations such as the case of the Amorski child.

    The course material offered to a child in the fourth grade and higher is composed primarily of written text. For example, a child must have sufficient reading skills to master geography, science, health and other subjects that rely on written text. Even the written problems in arithmetic demand reading skill.

    I am a volunteer tutor at Mildred Helms Elementary in Largo, and prior to the adoption of the FCAT, one fourth-grader had been sent to me for assistance in math and science. This child was having trouble in class because homework was not being done. I discovered immediately that this child was simply unable to read the text.

    I feel it is absolutely imperative that any child who has not developed sufficient reading skills at the close of the third grade be retained. As in the case of the child I helped, it is indeed possible for a child to appear a satisfactory student and still be unable to read.
    -- Dorothy McClellan Papworth, Belleair Beach

    Seniors are the guinea pigs

    Re: A's no measure of FCAT success.

    I share the frustration of the parents of third graders who may be retained due to their FCAT scores. Fortunately, most of the children can be promoted through "good cause." My son is a senior at Largo High School this year. He is on the honor roll with a 3.75 GPA, a former Packer of the Month, the current president of his school's Future Business Leaders of America, and works 25 hours a week as a clerk at the Pinellas County Courthouse.

    I guess this is the type of responsible resourceful student the governor wants to weed out. According to the state, he may be a failure. He has one final chance to pass the reading comprehension section of the FCAT. My son suffers from severe test anxiety.

    In a school system with such a high drop-out rate, he has managed to sustain his GPA by working within the school system's curriculum and parameters. With his excellent grades and attendance, he manages to exempt the exams that will give him the most trouble. During this senior year, the school has offered whatever help it can through test-anxiety workshops and some additional FCAT tutoring. I pray it is enough to get my child a passing score.

    The students currently in elementary and middle school are being groomed to pass this test. They will have years of having their entire curriculum designed accordingly. Their chances for success will get better every year. The members of this year's senior class have been the guinea pigs. They weren't taught to fit the FCAT criteria. There is talk of "blue ribbon panels" to look into the issues of students with special needs. But it will be too late for my son and many of his peers who stand to lose scholarships as well as self-esteem.

    For the record, my son is a law abiding, thoughtful, trustworthy, young man. He is a success. His worth is not wrapped up in this test -- just his diploma.
    -- Paula Barber, Largo

    Stopping the vicious circle

    Re: A's no measure of FCAT success.

    So a student gets almost straight A's but may fail the FCAT? My initial reaction was to blame an education system that is rife with union pork, an intrusive NEA, litigious parents and politically correct administrators intent on neutering our teachers. Therefore, before reading the article, I figured that teachers inflate grades so as not to incur the wrath of their principals or offend the parents.

    I stood corrected when I read that this was not the case. Rather, it was due to a fear of tests and the cruel and unusual punishment of having to stay still for two hours to finish the reading portion of the FCAT.

    Fear of tests? Please explain to me exactly how students get A's and B's for a whole year and never takes a test? You'd think they'd be used to it by now -- unless the PC police are out there instructing the teachers to find "creative" ways to bypass this little annoyance and give the student a good grade regardless of test results. After all, it's all about feelings and we can't do anything to lower their self-esteem, can we?

    So now who have we hurt?

    Our predilection for finding "victims" in everything and to blame everyone and everything but ourselves has led us to this mess. Accordingly, many kids leave the education system about as stupid as when they came in, parents scream about how it is not their fault and expect the government to come in to save their precious children. So government demands testing to find out where the problems are. And parents complain once again. We are trapped in an ever-widening downward spiral where the government is damned if it does and damned if it doesn't.

    Want to stop this vicious circle? Give back to teachers their authority in the classroom. Abolish the NEA. Prohibit frivolous lawsuits. Make parents responsible and make kids accountable for their studies and behavior.
    -- Vilmar Tavares, Spring Hill

    Children need time to play

    Re: Give students a break, mom says, Jan. 15.

    I believe that Lori Laughrey in right on track. My son, who is 8, has a "special" class with his coach every sixth school day. He is not allowed out for any type of recess on the days in between. He has a 22-minute lunch during which he must sit in an assigned seat, which allows him to interact with only those other children assigned to his table. We wonder why our children can't sit still from 8:30 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. with a 22-minute lunch break.

    I am an advocate of learning and teaching and want children to fulfill their potential, but some of life's lessons can be taught on the playground. Where else will they learn to work as a team, win and lose gracefully, to show sportsmanship and to interact with others?

    Our children are just that, children. Sometimes educators forget this in their quest.
    -- Nancy L. Jones-Burkett, Tampa

    Make free play part of learning

    My hat's off to Lori Laughrey who wants more recess for her children (Give students a break, mom says). I, too, inquired about recess for elementary students when I moved here. When I approached the principal at my son's school about the recess need, her response was, "You must be from the north! The Pinellas County school system does not provide recess for children after second grade."

    Last week my son's teacher reported that "he just doesn't sit still in the afternoon. I have to constantly tell him to sit in his chair and sit still!"

    Dah! What fifth-grade boy can learn without some unstructured play time throughout the day!

    It's unfortunate that something as simple as knowing that children need unstructured, physical activity during the day to help them learn better, concentrate, stay physically fit and develop social skills has been overlooked, or worse, ignored. Do we have to mandate such concepts as we have with smaller class sizes? Does the liability outweigh the benefits? I think not.

    My suggestion to elementary school parents, PTAs and teachers is to start advocating and brainstorming as to how we could make free play a part of learning. I think FCAT scores could even be positively impacted. That might get someone's attention!
    -- Nancy Tedros, Dunedin

    A chance for learning was lost

    Re: Is student play unsuitable for students? Jan. 17.

    The administrators at Tampa's King High School lost an opportunity for teaching their students by not allowing them to view the play Bang, Bang, You're Dead. They allowed some students to perform the play and friends of the actors to view the play. I would have imagined most students heard or read about Columbine and other schools in the newspapers. What makes administrators think all students are not capable of handling the subject matter?

    Had the student body viewed the play and all returned to their prospective classrooms, the individual teachers could have held discussions on the moral of the play and helped students to see it is not right to bully or pick on others and certainly not right to solve a problem by killing someone.

    Bill Maxwell in a Jan. 15 column (What had changed was Bill Maxwell), tells us how he was enlightened about the best way to teach: "I now understood that teaching and learning should not be mere exercises in reward and punishment. I found myself lecturing less and asking more questions that led students to their own questions, some of them profound."

    The school lost an opportunity to teach the students to understand best how situations become tragedies and to allow them to discuss ways to avoid that from happening again. Oh, the learning that could have come out of that classroom experience!
    -- Carol Santure, St. Petersburg

    A needed understanding

    Re: What had changed was Bill Maxwell, Jan. 15.

    It is indeed unfortunate for the parents of children attending Florida's public schools that the school administrators in this state do not have the academic expertise and understanding of Bill Maxwell, who acknowledges "that teaching and learning should not be mere exercises in reward and punishment." If they did there would not be the justifiable controversy over the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
    -- Russell Lee Johnson, St. Petersburg

    A leadership pitfall revealed

    Re: What had changed was Bill Maxwell.

    I usually avoid Maxwell's often whiney column, but this time he wrote a statement that hit the nail right on the thumb: "The truth is that I often reached my goals without bringing my students along."

    That line sums up the largest pitfall of any leadership role, be it teaching, managing or whatever. We get so engrossed with meeting targets set by ourselves or others that it's easy to forget why we're there in the first place.

    Thanks, Bill, for reminding us of the flush we felt as we watched the eyes of our students -- or employees -- light up with understanding after we back-tracked, took them by the hand and led them through something that they would have grasped the first time around had we remembered that, at one time, we had been in their shoes.
    -- Carl J. Navarra, St. Petersburg

    Cow killing was shocking

    Re: Owner calls deputies' killing of cows senseless, Jan. 22.

    I am shocked that the cows that had gotten out were wantonly killed by a Polk County deputy. Where I am from (Wyoming) if someone's cows get out, you just put them back. Or if the deputy was afraid of them, the road could have been blocked off till help arrived.

    I don't think six pregnant cows are worth $6,000 either. Try $12,000 at the very least. I think Juanita Spradley needs an attorney and the deputy needs to be charged with cruelty to animals and suspended.
    -- Virginia Dittrich, St. Petersburg

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