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FCAT Part I begins today

MANATEE — The first round of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test kicks off today.

For three days, fourth, eighth and 10th grade students across the state will take a series of tests entitled “Florida Writes!” to evaluate their writing skills.

In Manatee County, schools district wide have been preparing their students for the days ahead, with plenty of practice since the start of the school year.

“We are ready and excited,” said Michelle McCarthy, the language arts department chair at Manatee High School.

This year Manatee County School District teachers have worked hard to avoid student template writing, where students use similar or exact transitions and sentences in their essays on the FCAT.

That’s because last July, the Florida Department of Education sent letters to 12 districts, including Manatee, telling them there was evidence of it on the writing portion of the 2009 FCAT. Officials say template writing should not be allowed because every student’s writing should be his or her original work.

“Our 10th grade teachers have been working on (one-on-one) writing conferences with each student,” McCarthy said.

Preparation for this week’s test was not just limited to English classes, either.

“Our history and science teachers are giving students extra reinforcement in their classes with writing, too,” she said.

Louis Robison, district executive director of school improvement and accountability, said parents can play a role in their child’s preparation.

“Have them get a good night’s rest and eat a good breakfast,” Robison said. “The more relaxed they are, the better they will do.”

The rest of the FCAT is scheduled for next month, according to the Florida Department of Education.

Between March 9 and 19, third through 10th-graders will take the FCAT’s reading, math and science tests.

Eleventh and twelfth graders who need to retake the FCAT can do so late next month,.

The state began grading schools in 1999 in an effort to raise student performance. In the past, schools have been assigned a letter grade, A through F, based on exam scores.

But this year, the FCAT counts for only half of the school grade. The other 50 percent consists of other factors, including graduation rates and students’ participation and performance in advanced courses.