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State test returns this week

Second- through 10th-graders will take three to six hours of FCAT reading and math exams. Teachers are trying to keep stress levels low.

By KENT FISCHER

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2001


If learning were a sport, Florida public schools would be heading this week into their own version of March Madness, the pet name given to the annual college basketball championship.

For schools, the scramble for the top tips off Monday morning with shrink-wrapped test booklets and No. 2 pencils.

The FCAT is back. Students completed the writing portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assesment Test in February, but plenty remains for this week, when students in just about every grade will slog through hours of reading and math exams.

The students' scores are crucial because the state will use them to rate every public school in the state. Schools that produce top scores can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash bonuses. Schools that falter face a public flogging at the hands of lawmakers, media and parents.

Sanders Elementary School teacher Linda Brocato's class has been preparing for the exams since school began, and they're planning a big celebration when the tests end.

"They are highly motivated, but they're not stressed over it," said Brocato, who teaches fifth grade. "FCAT means a lot, I'm not going to pretend that it doesn't, but we're working really, really hard to (prepare them) in ways that are fun, not stressful."

That has included more hands-on projects and a new lesson this year that had children teaching each other, Brocato said. It means she has constantly been asking kids to explain how they arrived at their answers.

"I'm hoping that when they pick up the FCAT they'll say, "That wasn't so bad at all,' " she said.

At Sand Pine Elementary School, teachers are encouraging students not to dwell on "what they don't know," Assistant Principal Cara Allen said. Instead, she wants kids to show off what they do know.

"We've been talking up the test, reminding the kids to get a good night's sleep," she said. "We don't want them to get too stressed out, so we're encouraging them to show off what they can do. Stressing them out doesn't make them good test-takers."

The exams start Monday morning with an hourlong reading test for kids in grades four, eight and 10, as well as a math exam for fifth-graders. During the week, kids in grades two through 10 will take from three to six hours of exams, depending on which grade they're in.

To help keep the kids fresh, schools are asking parents to make sure their children get a good night's sleep each night and that they eat a healthy breakfast each morning.

"This isn't the great unknown anymore," Allen said, referring to the first few years the test was given, when teachers weren't sure of its format or how the scores would be used. "I don't feel like the kids or the teachers should be as stressed this year."

- Kent Fischer covers education in Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6241 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6241. His e-mail address is kfischer@sptimes.com.

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