Test time: Manatee County students prep for FCAT

eearl@bradenton.comApril 12, 2013 

Rosa Cline's kindergarten class presented a message of encouragement for Olga Tharp's third grade students, who were about to take their first FCAT in April 2013. ERICA EARL/Bradenton Herald

MANATEE -- Students around Manatee County have spent the better half of the school year preparing for the FCAT testing next week.

The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test begins April 15 for students in third through 10th grades.

This is the first year students, other than third-graders, will take the entire test on computers.

Lisa Fehling, a Bayshore High reading coach, has been working with getting students comfortable with the test format.

Bayshore has been coaching students aside on how to use FCAT Explorer and USA Test Prep as all students beyond third grade will test on computers this year.

"We have not been spending a long amount of time with the computer training," Fehling said. "We have been doing enough over the past couple of weeks to get them acclimated to the test format."

Failing the FCAT can mean students must take it again in their junior and senior years. It can even delay graduation, which puts added pressure on students new to the new digital format.

Fehling said most students she works with oppose computer testing.

"I am not a fan of it," said student Christina Trevino.

"Being on the computer too long hurts my eyes."

Trevino said she may have a harder time concentrating with the computer format.

Ernie Parades, interim director of technology and information services, said there should be no problem for the school district in handling students taking the test on computers. Parades said that the district has the capacity.

"The district has done successful preliminary testing in preparation for the online FCAT testing and we are ready to go," Parades said in an e-mail to the Herald. "Testing is staggered and not all grades are being tested at once."

Schools around Manatee County have been preparing students through simulation tests.

Fehling has pulled some students out of class to address problem areas in test taking.

"They identify their weaknesses and get targeted help," Fehling said.

Elementary students have also been working to sharpen their math and reading skills, particularly third-graders who will be taking the state-mandated test for the first time.

Olga Tharp's and Rebecca Zion's third-grade classes at Daughtrey Elementary and Fehling's high school students have developed similar studying strategies, including incorporating material into games and competitions to make reviewing more enjoyable.

Tharp said her students have performed well on practice tests. Student Dalaysia Murry even earned a perfect score on the math section of the practice FCAT.

"I feel great about the FCAT and that we all have a good chance of getting good scores because of what we have learned," Murry said.

Other third-grade say they feel confident about their first FCAT.

"I think it will be a success because we have been preparing all year and have been given ideas for problem solving," said student Kenya Muthe.

Other students, however, are a little more nervous about the test, especially since failing could keep students from advancing to the next grade.

"Some students are nervous because they are repeating the third grade and want to make sure they do their best," Zion said.

Zion said classes have rushed through the last few chapters of their textbooks to ensure they have time to ready for testing, Teachers will re-teach this material after the test.

Teachers have also been encouraging students to practice test-taking strategies at home.

Trevino said reading news stories online improved her reading speed and comprehension.

Bayshore student Jasmine Handy said reading closed captioned television shows helped her with speed reading.

The test will be given April 15-16 in 70-minute segments.

Daughtrey Elementary will hold a pep rally Friday afternoon to inspire and encourage students.

"A key component is getting students to relax and treat the test like any other day at school," Zion said.

Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.

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