FCAT returns on Monday; here are some tips
Published: Friday, April 12, 2013 at 5:30 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 12, 2013 at 5:30 p.m.
That much-debated season is upon us again: It's FCAT time.
WHO’S TAKING THE TEST
Reading - grades 3 through 10
Math - grades 3 through 8
Writing - grades 4, 8 and 10
Science - grades 5 and 8
April 15 - Reading (grades 3, 4, 5 and 10); Math (grades 6, 7 and 8)
April 16 - Reading (grades 3, 4, 5, 7, 8 and 10)
April 17 - Reading (grades 7 and 8); Math (grades 3 and 4); Science (grade 5)
April 18 - Math (grades 3 and 4); Science (grades 5 and 8)
April 22 - Reading (grades 6 and 9); Math (grade 5)
April 23 - Reading (grades 6 and 9); Math (grade 5)
*Retakes for students who did not pass FCAT grade 10 Reading, a graduation requirement, will continue through April 19. Each school schedules its own retakes.
Reading - grades 6, 7, 9 and 10
Math - grade 5
* Paper-based tests are provided for students who require testing accommodations.
Test taking kicks off Monday for grades 3 to 10. With changes to both the content and format of the test in the past few years, as well as frequent debate about the efficacy of the state-mandated exam, parents might be fretting about their children's performance or questioning whether the test is even relevant anymore.
But like it or not, FCAT could be here to stay. Even with Florida's impending transition to the Common Core State Standards curriculum and end-of-course exams, students will continue to sit for the FCAT in certain subjects, said Karen Clarke, director of secondary education for Alachua County Public Schools.
At the end of the day, said Alachua County Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Hershel Lyons, the test is still the main benchmark for the state to measure students' progress.
Passing the FCAT is a requirement for both third-grade students and 10th-grade students, who must pass in order to graduate.
It also helps with class placement, Lyons said. FCAT performance can determine whether students should be in a magnet program, advanced or remedial classes.
But student performance on the test now factors into teacher evaluations, which will be used to determine teacher pay and employment status in years to come. Teachers have pushed back against that system, saying it's unfair to instructors who don't teach FCAT subjects or grade levels, among other factors.
Some changes have been made to try to bolster students' scores.
Last year, seven elementary schools in Alachua County ranked among the 100 lowest-performing schools in the state. Each had its day extended by one hour of reading instruction.
One of them is Lake Forest Elementary, which received a grade of D in 2011 and F in 2012.
Principal Diana Hill said the school wanted the extra hour of instruction anyway, but she was disappointed Lake Forest received it because it was performing so poorly.
"Nobody wants to be an F school," she said.
With the pumped-up reading instruction, Hill guarantees Lake Forest will not be an F school again this year.
But the extra hour isn't a proven success yet.
"That's the Catch-22," Lyons said. "Students of that age, elementary school age, they can't really stay in school and focus that long, so it doesn't always pan out the way we expect it to."
The high-stakes nature of the test really can stress students out, and some great students sometimes score poorly on the FCAT because of test anxiety.
To keep children's stress level down and ensure they perform well on test days, Lyons urges parents to remain positive and express confidence in their children's abilities. He and Clarke offered a few tips for families to help students do their best:
1. Get plenty of sleep
It's important for children to focus during the timed test, Clarke said. Testing rooms will be silent, per FCAT standards, and a sleepy student could easily zone out in the middle of a section. Shoot for at least eight hours of rest.
2. Eat breakfast
A morning meal helps jump-start the day — and helps with focus.
"There's nothing worse than walking into a test and halfway through your stomach starts growling," Clarke said.
Some schools provide snacks prior to the test or allow students to bring healthy food to eat during break periods, she said. Students also can buy breakfast in school cafeterias before classes start for the day.
3. Get to school on time
If possible, arrive early. Once classroom doors close and testing begins, late students won't be able to join their classes until the testing session is over. Missed sessions must be made up during the retake period, which schools have to schedule on their own.
4. Don't stress
For the most part, students already know what's at stake when they take the FCAT. Parents should encourage their children to do their best on the test but shouldn't scare them, Clarke said.
FCAT practice happens all year leading up to the test so students can feel as prepared as possible by the time the test rolls around.
"The idea is to try to relieve as much stress as we can for students, especially the ones that get the test-taking anxiety," Clarke said.
She reminds students it's OK to put the pencil down and take a few deep breaths during the test if they feel overwhelmed or nervous. It's also important to go slowly and read carefully through test instructions to make sure each question is answered the right way.
"Some of them sound very simple, but they're very important when it comes to testing," Clarke said.
Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or email@example.com.