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FCAT to go high-tech in '09
The school district is preparing for the high-stakes test to be taken on computers.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Published November 26, 2007
LAND O'LAKES - Jacqueline Dicaire looks to the FCAT a year from now, and she's got some major concerns.
They have nothing to do with the common teacher criticisms about too-high passing scores, shifting standards or performance pay based on the results.
Rather, the instructional technology specialist at Pine View Elementary wonders how her school - or all schools, for that matter - will cope with the state's push to have students in at least three grade levels take a portion of the annual exam on computers by spring 2009.
What if the school has a power outage during the test? What if it doesn't have enough computers to serve every student at the same time? What if children who otherwise might pass the test don't have strong enough computer skills?
"There are so many questions," Dicaire said. "I know we're not the first people who have asked these questions, but it is a concern. We want to do what is best for the kids."
Hoping to be ready, the Pasco school district is convening a committee to investigate all the ins and outs of the expected move to a high-tech test. It's getting ahead of the curve - other area districts, including Hillsborough, have not yet started looking at the possibilities.
The members will talk about the technical requirements, such as needed operating systems, as well as the ways to ensure schools can meet them. They view it as a planning year.
"If we have an option, we would opt out," research and evaluation director Peggy Jones said, listing a handful of security and related concerns that district leaders have about testing on computers.
When the state first started computerized FCAT trials a year ago, using high school retakes only, it got few takers. Just eight schools in six districts participated, testing fewer than 200 students.
Many district testing experts declined to join the pilot program, saying the initiative added too many unnecessary extra variables into the testing system. The test should be about a student's academic skills, some said, rather than their ability to work a computer while also stressing out about the content.
State education officials pressed on with the concept through the spring, with the number of participating schools and students growing. Even some initial doubters, including Hillsborough schools, have now opted in, letting juniors and seniors volunteer to retake the FCAT on the computer if they wish.
In seeking a new contract for a company to provide the 2009 norm-referenced portion of the FCAT, the state next angled to begin putting that section of the test on computers.
Students in the fifth, eighth and ninth grades would be the first group to complete that test on computers, with fourth and sixth grades added in 2010 and third, seventh and tenth grades added in 2011.
"There are some districts that think it will go away," Jones said of the idea. "There's always that possibility. But it is something that the DOE is really pushing. So we are operating as if it is going to occur, and it's going to happen in 2009."
That message is seeping down to the school level, where they actually give the test. And it's got those who figure they'll ultimately be responsible for the administration on computers talking. It takes a simple memory of the state's rollout of the FCAT practice program, called Explorer, to make them nervous.
"It crashed all the time, at first," Dicaire remembered. "Now, we have no trouble with it. It's a wonderful program. But it did take a couple of years."
No one wants to have a similar experience when students are taking the test for real, and not just practicing.
"When you're in the trenches, that's what you think about," Dicaire said.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or 813 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.