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© St. Petersburg Times
published March 2, 2003
Mary Russell is onto something.
Russell, a Pinellas School Board member, says there is too much emphasis on the state's standardized tests, which begin Monday in public schools. The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, known as the FCAT, is administered to all children in grades three through 10.
In past years, there have been pep rallies with buttons and slogans, extensive classroom preparation on test-taking skills, rewards for children and instances of teachers' cheating.
Third-graders need to demonstrate proficiency in reading or else be retained. High school sophomores risk losing their ability to graduate if they score poorly.
Too much pressure on students and faculty, Russell said. And how the students perform shouldn't be the only barometer in assigning letter grades -- and accompanying financial rewards or public scorn -- to individual schools.
So Russell announced last week that her two children would boycott the FCAT. She does not stand alone.
As this is being written, there is a strong likelihood we will do likewise with our 9-year-old. The pressure is not imagined. We watched junior fret for several days prior to the previously administered Florida Writes exam.
This is not intended as a political statement. No self-aggrandizement or showboating. But our household genuinely is concerned about the well-being of our fourth-grader and of the other children in his class at Lake Myrtle Elementary School in Land O'Lakes.
Skipping the FCAT is a matter of serious public health.
The 9-year-old has the varicella zoster virus.
That's the chicken pox to you and me.
The red blisters are upon him despite the inoculation he received several years ago. He is the fourth student in his class to be diagnosed. It meant missing much of the FCAT prep work the past several days. He should be thankful, a classmate volunteered.
To escape the tedium of the review work, other students poked themselves with pencils to create red dots on their skin, then reported to the teacher that they suspected they had chicken pox.
The afflicted in our house also has to deal with a not-always sympathetic younger sibling. The 5-year-old talked often of finding a washable marker so he could play connect the dots on his older brother's hide.
The chicken pox virus sometimes resurfaces in adults as shingles. See David Letterman if you have doubts. My own outbreak of shingles several years ago was diagnosed as symptomatic of physical or emotional stress.
"Have you been feeling any stress?" the physician's office inquired.
I answered truthfully.
"My mother-in-law is coming for a visit."
The humor escaped the medical community. Oh, well. Shingles is something junior can look forward to down the road.
Right now, we're just surprised at the chicken pox outbreak. We should have paid closer attention two months ago to a widely reported study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggesting children who have been vaccinated against chicken pox may not be protected completely. It cited a day care center in New Hampshire where 16 of 25 infected children had been inoculated against the disease. The study reported that a single dose of the vaccine had been effective in only 44 percent of the cases.
So, maybe this will open up a new range of questions for Florida's standardized tests. Here are a few suggestions:
1. A class has 22 children. Four contract chicken pox. What is the percentage of the class that is sick?
A) 18 percent.
B) 82 percent.
C) Does it really matter when you're one of them?
A) chicken pox.
C) more political acumen than Mary Russell.
If you had any trouble deciphering the correct answers, plan on repeating third grade.