Ask Isaiah Williams, a third-grader at Campbell Park Elementary, what he thinks of the FCAT and he shrugs.
Ask his mother, Delores, and she says, "I'm worried."
The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test has been around for more than a decade, but it still inspires fear.
To change that, the Pinellas County School District is offering workshops this month just for parents. The goal: Give them basic facts about the FCAT. Offer tips on how to prepare their kids. And, hopefully, calm nerves.
The workshops will "let them know (the FCAT) is just one tool to measure children's success," said Monica McIntosh, a staff developer at Azalea Middle School.
McIntosh helped organize the second of eight workshops Saturday at the James W. Johnson Library in southern St. Petersburg. It drew more than 60 people.
Individual schools have offered similar events, but this is the first year the district rolled out its own, said Valerie Brimm, who directs the district's new Office of Strategic Partnerships.
"You'll be surprised to know how many parents don't know the FCAT dates … or how many don't know the FCAT content," Brimm said. "Although it's been a long journey for the FCAT, it's still a mystery."
Feb. 9 was the first day for the FCAT writing test. Reading, math and science will be tested March 9-19.
At Saturday's workshop, elementary parents learned the nuts and bolts of the math and reading tests, courtesy of Angela Owens, an assistant principal at Bay Point Elementary.
The third-grade reading test, for example, is given over two days, at 60 minutes each day. Everything from letters to magazine articles could end up as reading passages. And each passage is 100 to 700 words long, with the average being 500.
The third-grade math test, meanwhile, is 120 minutes.
"That's a lot of testing on one day," Owens said. "That's why it goes back to that stamina."
Educators at the workshop suggested that parents read with their children for longer and longer intervals to prepare their brains just like athletes prepare their bodies.
Many students who struggle on the FCAT know the material, said Dexter McCree, the district's family and community involvement coordinator. "They're just tired," he said.
By the way, why should a parent care how a child does on the test? If students don't score high enough on the FCAT reading test in third grade (but not in other grades) they can be held back. If they don't score high enough in reading and math on the 10th grade FCAT, they might not graduate. And if they don't score high enough in any grade, on any subject, parents should worry because the FCAT sets a minimal bar for the skills they need to get to college or get a decent job, or both. Also, school grades and reputations hinge on FCAT scores, and while good grades can bring modest pots of bonus money to a school, a bad grade can bring a stigma that is hard to shake.
Parents at the recent workshop said they planned to follow up on the tips.
Raymond and Demetrice Richardson, parents of Campbell Park student Raymond II, said they're going to limit his video game time. Until now, it has been unlimited on weekends. Now, it's going to be cut to a couple of hours.
Is that okay with Raymond II? He shook his head.
But Mom wasn't budging. "The FCAT is important," she said.
Ron Matus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8873.