Changing standard tests students
By STEPHEN HEGARTY
© St. Petersburg Times,
The high stakes of testing got even higher this week for some 46,000 high school students statewide who failed Florida's graduation test the first time.
They get another chance to pass this week. It is their second -- and perhaps best -- chance at mastering a test they must pass to get a diploma.
If they come up short again, they will have four more chances to retake the test. But after this week, the passing score gets higher.
"I think the kids are really feeling the pressure," said Julie Janssen, principal at Countryside High School in Pinellas County.
At most high schools, testing began Tuesday and concludes today.
More than 5,300 high school students in the Tampa Bay area have to retake at least a part of the FCAT test because they came up short when they took the 10th-grade test last year. More Florida students failed the reading portion, including 5,340 in five Tampa Bay counties, where 4,032 failed the math portion.
This year's 11th-graders are the first group of students who have to pass the FCAT to graduate. In previous years, students had to pass the High School Competency Test, which was considered easier than the FCAT.
Charles Casciotta, who oversees middle and high school curricula for the Hernando County schools, visited a high school just before the testing started Tuesday.
"We let them know, "This is important. This determines whether you can graduate,' " Casciotta said. He and other educators believe that pressure is somewhat mitigated by the fact that "they also know they have multiple opportunities to pass it."
The pressure this week falls squarely on the students, but it is being felt elsewhere, too. The state is under some pressure because the tough graduation requirements could increase the dropout rate, and because several parents whose children are in danger of missing graduation are asking some tough questions.
A handful of parents from around the state, including a Largo woman, have written to the state requesting to see their children's detailed test results. Betty Shields of Largo wants the results so she can help her son prepare for the test. Shields' and the other requests have been denied. The state considers the test booklets and answer sheets to be confidential.
At least a couple of the parents say they will continue to pursue the matter.
"I just don't think the state is handling this well," said Robin Testerman of Polk County, who requested her son's FCAT results. "This is important. My son says "I'm going to do fine. Don't worry about it,' but I know he's stressed out about it."
Historically, the vast majority of students who retake the graduation exam eventually pass it. At least that's the way it worked for the High School Competency Test. Students had six chances to pass the math and reading sections before their class graduated, and ultimately some 98 percent of them passed it.
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From the Times state desk
From the state wire