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The calm before the brainstorm

Two students about to take the FCAT's writing portion - one for the first time, one for the last - are ready to compose.

Published February 11, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - On Tuesday, Florida public schoolchildren in grades 4, 8 and 10 began the first round of FCAT testing for 2004.

The writing portion of the standardized test, formerly called Florida Writes, required them to follow a prompt and to write either an expository essay, in which they explained something, or a narrative essay, in which they told a story. They had 45 minutes to do the job.

Earlier this week, Neighborhood Times asked a couple of kids - a fourth-grader taking the test for the first time and a 10th-grader taking it for the last time - for their thoughts.

* * *

William "Teddy" Matthews, a Lakewood Elementary fourth-grader, could hardly wait for Tuesday to arrive. His teacher, Ms. Bell, had promised the class she would wear her "celebration shoes," the ones with the squiggly lines and the little dots and the curlicues that she wears only at FCAT time.

After several practice sessions, including one in which he explained why he would be a good safety patrol, Teddy felt pretty confident he would get a good score. To be on the safe side, he decided to go to bed early Monday night, foregoing American Idol, so he would be fresh for the test.

"I'm hoping to show that I'm a good writer," he said. "It's important for our school, because if the kids fail, then our school will get an F. Parents won't let their kids come because they will think the teachers don't teach the students enough to pass the test. But I think that every kid can make a difference if they try their best."

* * *

Jamie Combs, a 10th-grader at Northeast High School, was looking forward to taking the test.

"It doesn't seem that bad. You're just expressing yourself," the 15-year-old explained.

Her English teacher, Daniel Dotter, held a couple of practice sessions. In one, he asked the students to write a five-paragraph essay on a book they had just read: John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.

Jamie said she didn't expect to have any trouble answering a prompt such as "Explain what is interesting about your community" after reducing Of Mice and Men to a simple beginning, middle and ending.

Still, she said she is glad she doesn't have to express herself in standardized test style every day.

"I admit it's more organized, but I don't really like having to space the sentences out to make them five paragraphs," she said. "And I like to write more than what the FCAT asks for."

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