Student sweat out FCAT weeks

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By Claude Lewis

Parents, be extra nice to your kids this week and next. Buy them an ice cream or their favorite candy bar. Little Johnny or Mary is apt to be feeling the pressure of relentless FCAT testing.

Yes, the much ballyhooed Florida Comprehesive Assessment Test is being given statewide to students in grades 3-11.

The annual tests, which mirror the Sunshine State Stardards, gauge how students measure up against others from across the state in three critical areas –language arts, mathematics and science.

Reading and mathematics tests are given to grades 3-10. Writing is given to grades 4, 8 and 10. Science is given to grades 5, 8 and 11.

Schools put a lot of emphasis on the FCATs, as students are prepared for the tests since week one of school in August.

While looking at individual scores is a big part of FCAT, there are bigger things at stake for schools. Test scores are compiled and calculated to give a picture of how each school fares as a whole. These scores are compared to other schools in the district.

And then the districts can see how they stack up against other districts across the state.

Levy Assistant Superintendent Jeff Edison said that county schools look to be on target to improve across the board.

"The data looks good,"he said.

A lot of extra curricular activities at schools are pretty much shut down to make way for the testing. For example, sports teams try not to schedule much during the early part of FCAT week so students can concentrate on the tests.

Each test takes 60 to 80 minutes. Some grades have more than one session per subject. Most of the answers are multiple choice.

Kids were busy taking reading tests on Tuesday. Most were lined up for math on Wednesday. Then there's science next week.

Some schools like Chiefland Middle, try to make the FCATs as much fun as possible, if that's possible.

Superintendent Robert Turnipseed organized an FCAT "pep rally"Monday afternoon.

Chiefland Middle also has some nifty prizes for kids who excel in the tests.

"We've been doing the incentive thing for the last three years,"he said. "Every 50 points a kid improves, his or her name gies into a hat for a drawing for prizes."

CMS takes the FCAT testing seriously. The school is in the third year of a Continuous Improvement program.

Benchmark information from the tests is covered each week. Turnipseed meets with teachers once a week to see exactly where everyone is. Students who are sick or fall behind for other reasons receive remedial attention so they can keep up.

A teaching tool called Think Link is valuable in keeping on top of where each student sits. Charts show performances month by month.

School districts usually receive their FCAT results by May, but they will be coming back later this year.

"The change of the school calendar pushed back the FCAT testing and will push back te results until June or July,"Edison said.