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Tools in place to help kids with FCAT

By MARYAN PELLAND
Published February 22, 2007


Hernando County School District Testing Specialist Linda Peirce can tell you the best way to do well on the FCAT is to get to school on time, fortified by a good breakfast and a good night's sleep.

FCATs, which begin for most students next week, weren't designed to create stress, although they do. They're often referred to as "high stakes" tests.

Third-graders must achieve a 2 or above FCAT score in reading to go on to fourth grade. Tenth-graders must, for now, receive a qualifying score on both reading and math to graduate from high school. As of next year, high-schoolers also have to qualify in writing.

New programs in schools are helping raise scores. Though there is some controversy about the tests and their efficiency, Peirce sees a downward trend in the number of elementary schools that don't meet state-mandated scores.

High school is a different story, with 60 to 70 percent of students in all Hernando County high schools failing the FCAT their first time through. That segment reduces to about 12 percent who don't receive a diploma on time because of the FCAT. And most often, it isn't math that shoots them down; it's reading, says Peirce.

Peirce says there are lots of tools in place to help students. Elementary kids who fall short are invited to summer reading camp. They receive remedial assistance in school. There are frequent workshops for parents as well.

Every school has an assessment teacher and a reading coach. Each principal must submit a comprehensive reading strategy to the state each year.

The tests can be retaken as often as needed. High-schoolers can replace FCAT scores with ACT or SAT scores in certain circumstances. There are several exceptions, at both grade levels, to minimum state-required scoring rules.

This year, for example, Peirce helped design a software program, called "Aim High."

In use districtwide, it can, among other things, alert teachers to children who need additional help in given subject areas.

This year, both Central and Deltona will hold pep rallies for the FCAT. At Deltona, third- through fifth-grade students can enjoy marching band music and other activities, aimed at getting everyone psyched to take the test.

Families can help, too, says Jan Oppedal, J.D. Floyd's assessment teacher. She says kids get valuable tips to take home, and the Florida Department of Education has a wealth of resources at www.fldoe.org - look for the FCAT link.

If you have concerns or questions about the FCAT, call your child's school and ask for extension 267, which is the assessment teacher at each school.

Fast Facts:

Some FCAT tips for parents:

- Make sure your child attends school each day of the tests.

- Encourage them to try - points are given for attempting an answer, even if it isn't the exact answer.

- Try for a well-balanced diet - breakfast is critical.

- So, too, is a good night's sleep.

- Try not to be overly anxious about scores - treat them as another tool for your family to measure progress.

- Be aware of what tests your child will take and on what days.

- See that your child dresses comfortably on testing days.