Schools feel ready for the annual FCAT challenge


Published: Sunday, April 14, 2013 at 5:39 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 14, 2013 at 9:00 p.m.

As Florida’s main benchmark for public school students — and a graduation requirement for high school — the FCAT is a high-stakes test for everyone.

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FCAT testing begins Monday for grades 3 through 10. Grades 3 through 8 will be tested on math; grades 5 and 8 will be tested on science; and every grade level in the range will take the reading test.

But at some schools, the stakes are even higher.

As of December 2012, public schools that receive either three D grades in a row or two F grades in a row face sanctions such as redistributing students to other schools or closing and reopening as a charter school.

Last year, seven Alachua County elementary schools ranked among the 100 lowest-performing schools in the state, based on FCAT scores.

As a result, Duval, Lake Forest, Metcalfe, Rawlings, Shell and Waldo elementary schools, plus charter school Caring and Sharing Learning School, had their school days extended by one hour for additional reading instruction.

“We are very hopeful that they’re going to show real growth,” said Diana Lagotic, director of elementary curriculum at Alachua County Public Schools.

Teachers were given a separate curriculum for the reading period, which consists of many of the same exercises students do during the regular school day — but amplified.

“It’s like extra tutoring for all the children,” Shell Elementary Principal Libby Hartwell said.

More instruction in reading strategies and comprehension in both large and small groups has been a good thing for Shell students, Hartwell said.

Shell received a grade of C in 2011 but slipped to a D last year. Hartwell said she’s seeing improvements at her school and expects the grade to improve.

Regardless of school grade, though, she said it’s important for students to be proficient in reading.

“The higher the score a student has, the more options that child has in the upper grades,” she said.

Diane Hill, principal at Lake Forest Elementary, said receiving a failing grade last year forced the school to re-evaluate itself.

This year, she said, she’s working on development with the teachers and looking at students individually to figure out where the weaknesses are.

In addition to the extra reading instruction, Lake Forest teachers are focusing more on FCAT subjects — reading and math — in their daily curriculum.

“It will be beneficial, regardless of whether our grade goes up,” Hill said.

But the school grade isn’t her sole concern.

At Lake Forest, about 96 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, a barometer for the zone’s income level. Students in underserved areas don’t always come to school with all of the tools they need to succeed.

“Sometimes you have to look at students, where they come from before school,” she said. “But every kid can make a year’s growth, regardless of the level they came in.”

Hill pointed out that it’s still a success if a child scores a low level 1 (out of a possible 5) the first year he or she takes the test and scores a high level 2 the next year.

Florida third-graders must score at least a 2 on the FCAT to be allowed to continue to fourth grade.

“I can guarantee we will not be an F (this year),” Hill said. “We have worked too hard, and the students have worked just as hard.”

At Metcalfe Elementary on Friday, Principal Pat Phillips gave her students a pep talk.

She was initially wary when the state sent teacher coaches to the school after Metcalfe received a grade of F.

But, she said, “it was really collaborative.”

The coaches worked with Metcalfe teachers to identify problem areas and get students up to speed in the FCAT subjects: reading, math and science.

Phillips said she’s glad they came and noted that her students are feeling good about the test.

“I know that they are prepared. The teachers worked extremely hard,” she said.

Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or erin.jester@gvillesun.com.

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