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State Web site offers help with FCAT

FCAT Explorer helps students prepare for the test and helps teachers monitor the progress of their students.

By MICHELE MILLER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 5, 2003

The senior from Hudson High School gets one more shot at the FCAT. If he fails this time, he won't be walking with his class in May, despite his A/B average.

"I've tried six times," Dustin said. "I can learn it but I have a hard time retaining it. Then the nerves add to it."

High School students are first given the test as sophomores but have until their senior year to pass. At last count, 43 Hudson High seniors needed to pass the reading section, and 36 needed to pass the math section of the FCAT in order to graduate with their class.

That's a big concern for Charlene Prahasky, the literary specialist at Hudson High. It's why she has been enrolling students as fast as she can on FCAT Explorer -- a Web site provided by the Florida Department of Education to help students prepare for the test. It's also why she has been training teachers as well as parents on how to use the Web site.

About 60 Hudson Middle and Hudson High school parents turned out at a recent seminar held by Prahasky to help familiarize them with the new tool that could make the difference for some, between a passing and failing grade.

Teachers throughout the county have been undergoing district training. In recent weeks many schools have hosted special "FCAT Explorer Informational Nights" for students and parents.

Public students and teachers can use the FCAT Explorer free of charge to practice and reinforce Sunshine State Standard reading and math skills that appear on the test.

Dustin, who hopes to attend the University of Tennessee and pursue a career in country music, said. he's been spending about an hour a day on the Web site.

"I think I'm making progress," he said.

All students in Pasco County and throughout the state have a user ID and password provided by their school so they can work on the Web site at home as well as in school.

"The great thing about it is they get immediate feedback -- they can find our right then and there whether they were right or wrong and why," Prahasky said.

Teachers can also monitor a student's progress as well as that of an entire class, said Prahasky.

"They can notice if a group of students miss the same question. Then they can work on that area in class. It's a really nice supplement to the teachers -- a more exciting tool that might help alleviate that FCAT crunch," she said.

Elementary students who get correct answers get an added benefit. They are rewarded with special online tokens they can use to play educational games.

"The older kids don't get that," Prahasky said. "They get to win with their diploma."

That's the hope for Dustin.

"Even if I don't pass in March and don't graduate with my class, I'm not going to drop out," Dustin said."I'll just take it again this summer and graduate late. I don't want to drop out."

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