Coleman Middle School students took a break from studies last week to take a 31/2-hour test they might never see again.
They were part of a national group used to set the baseline scoring standard for the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills, which many schools use to compare themselves to others.
Principal Mike Hoskinson calls the school's participation an honor. Students got practice testing, and the school will get results showing how the kids stack up. As an added incentive, test maker CTB-McGraw-Hill will donate $10 per student to the A-rated south Tampa school, or about $9,000.
"We can do some extra special things for the kids when they do well on the FCAT again," he says.
But is being in the "norm" group a distinction? Or a distraction?
The FCAT looms large, and a day away from the state curriculum means a day less getting ready for that high-stakes test. Many testing experts also question the value of norm-referenced tests, which tell you how children compare to one another but say nothing about how much they actually know.
Couldn't the kids have spent the day learning, rather than taking another test? It seems they simply became cogs in the testing industry machine.
Testing companies gladly hand over the money to hone the tests they sell. Financially stretched schools gladly accept.
What do the kids get out of it?
"They don't get anything, really," says Solorzano, who now heads the education department at Occidental College in Los Angeles. "Only the satisfaction of knowing the results of the test won't be used against them."
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Red-faced children race around in the blazing sun, huffing and sweaty, gulping down water from bottles brought from home: This is physical education at Hillsborough County elementary schools.
Shade? Only if there's a nearby tree, or if parents raise enough money to put up a roof. The average cost for that this year is about $160,000, of which the school district will contribute about one-third if the school brings the rest.
Many are trying.
Lutz Elementary is selling $100 commemorative plaques, and its PTA has kicked in $40,000 saved over the past three years. Essrig Elementary plans several activities, including a Nov. 10 fall festival.
But raising money is no easy feat at some schools. Essrig's initiative has brought in just $6,000 so far.
If it's hard at Essrig, which serves a middle-class Carrollwood community, just imagine the tough time facing Cleveland Elementary, which sits in an economically depressed area over by Interstate 275.
Ask the school staff about its effort and they refer you to the PTA at more well-to-do Bryant Elementary outside Westchase, which is collecting money for Cleveland now that it has bought its own playground cover.
Getting $5,000 in donations, which some schools can top in a day, takes a school like Cleveland a year or more. The chances of getting a $1-million "multipurpose coliseum" like the one Gorrie Elementary parents recently donated are nonexistent here.
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The Cambridge School hosts its Annual Fall Banquet and Auction at 6 p.m. Nov. 3 in Higgins Hall at St. Lawrence Parish, 5225 N Himes Ave. Cambridge's choir will perform and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers football player Jason Odom will host the evening. Tickets are $75. Proceeds benefit technology upgrades, tuition assistance and classroom needs.
Have ideas for future columns? Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at email@example.com or 813 269-5304. Staff writer Elisabeth Dyer contributed to this report.
Students from Gorrie Elementary, Wilson, Williams and Orange Grove middles and Hillsborough High traveled to Spain this summer soaking up the culture, practicing the language and learning the history. Next year's trip is planned for Ireland. For information, contact Michele Larkin at firstname.lastname@example.org.