Local News

District, students prep for FCAT

SEBRING - Three teams of Woodlawn Elementary third-graders competed after school Monday in a game-show-like exercise, answering geometry and math questions. As three students held their hands over electronic buzzers, teacher Candice Dickens advised that the questions on congruency will start out easy and then will get harder. After a student buzzed in and gave the correct answer to a problem shown on the whiteboard, Dickens said: “If you were on FCAT ….” She then demonstrated the thought process to arrive at the answer through the process of elimination. It’s the final session of the four-week-long FCAT Club, where once a week for two hours, students played games to reinforce their knowledge for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
State assessment testing began Monday with high school retakes while students in grades three through 10 prepped for the two-week testing period that starts April 15. More students will be taking their Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT 2.0) online this year, including reading in grades six, seven, nine and 10. New this year is fifth-grade math. Prior to the online testing, more than 2,000 district computers were certified in accordance with Florida Department of Education standards. Highlands School District Instructional Technology Specialist Darrell Layfield said, “We had to tell FDOE how many students we are testing and how many computers we have that meet minimum specifications. Then we run a ‘readiness trial’ on those computers to make sure they are ready.” On test days, staff at “command centers” at each school, and himself at the district office, will monitor the testing, Layfield said. If an Internet problem interrupts the testing, the monitors are trained to get the students back online to the testing website, he said. “It’s a pretty advanced and vast system.” The students’ test responses are offloaded to Pearson, the company that administers the FCAT, Layfield explained. “We can’t see any answers. All we can see is that that communication is taking place and there are no blips in the system.” Elementary Programs Director Joyce McClelland said students have been getting online test-taking practice with other district online assessments. The Progress Monitoring and FAIR tests (Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading) have been used to help students prepare for the online FCAT testing, she said. Will the results from the online tests come back sooner to the district and students? McClelland responded that it shouldn’t take as much time as the written tests, which have to be mailed in. There is a lot of preparation to get ready for the online testing, but also it saves a lot work compared to the paper-based tests where staff members have to handle the test-secure documents before, during and after the administration of the test, she said. The Florid Department of Education plans on replacing the reading and math portions of FCAT in the 2014-15 school year with a new test - the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). “We have already heard that may or may not be on schedule,” McClelland said. The new test will be designed help educators align test results with the Common Core State Standards, which are being phased in at all Florida Schools. End-of-course exams are being phased in at the high school and middle school level. Layfield noted that Avon Park and Lake Placid middle schools will be field testing a civics end-of-course exam in May. mvalero@highlandstoday.com

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