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Teachers warn all's not fair at test time

Students are being steered away from their usual blue-ribbon pursuits at the county fair next door.

By KENT FISCHER

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 13, 2001


DADE CITY -- The Pasco County Fairgrounds sit next to Pasco High School, and for years that proximity has posed a challenge for teachers during fair week. Attendance usually drops significantly at the school as students opt for the midway and livestock barns over class.

Pasco High teachers fear that tradition may hurt the school this year because the first part of the state's all-important FCAT is scheduled for Wednesday -- smack in the middle of fair week, which kicks off Monday.

School officials fear the students will blow off the exam and go to the fair instead. Schools that fail to test at least 90 percent of their students during exam week could be penalized when the state calculates its school rankings, which are based primarily on the results of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

"For years, many of our students have just hopped the fence and gone to the fair," said assistant principal Myra Croft.

Also, scores of Dade City students participate in the fair. The school district traditionally has allowed students to miss school to tend to their projects.

"In the mornings, they have to go over to the fairgrounds to feed, water and groom their animals," said agriculture teacher Gwynedolyn Ellis.

In addition to students showing their agricultural prowess, hundreds more students are participating in band competitions, baking contests and other events. And then there's the entertainment. The fair's helicopter rides land next to classrooms used for test-taking. Also, the fair's nightlife is popular with kids.

"This is the biggest thing in Dade City all year," Croft said. "The children stay out all night long."

The Pasco County School District asked the state Department of Education to defer testing for Pasco High students until after the fair ended, but the request was denied. In a letter to the district, state officials said next week's exam, Florida Writes, is merely a single, 45-minute essay test that students can take over any one of three days.

"This should provide sufficient opportunity for participation," the letter states.

The state, however, approved a similar exemption for Hillsborough schools because of a conflict with that county's Strawberry Festival next month. Pasco school officials said Hillsborough's request was approved because it conflicted with the much longer reading and math exams. Pasco's conflict was with the short writing test.

"Our kids will rise to the occasion, but (the state) knows that February is fair month," Ellis said. "Why would they put such an all-important test smack in the middle of that?"

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