NEW PORT RICHEY — Third-grader Kari Knight emerged from the Cotee River Elementary School media center Wednesday morning ready to get back into her routine.
Her third straight day of FCAT testing had run its course — 70 minutes of math, with a short break between sections — and Kari wanted to return to schoolwork. No, the kids don't test and then go home, and they don't blow off the remaining time with movies and fluff.
"It's not the end of the day yet," she said while waiting for her teacher to come escort her to art class. "It's a normal day."
At Cotee River, like most schools, educators seek to make FCAT testing days just like any other. The state might put heavy emphasis on the high-stakes exam, but that doesn't mean schools must add to the stress, they explained.
"It's just business as usual," said principal Lou Cerreta, who ended the past practice of FCAT pep rallies and other activities that heightened attention on the test. "There's enough anxiety and pressure already. I don't need to put any more pressure on them."
Instead, he sought to keep schedules as normal as possible. That included maintaining the instruction calendar. No losing two weeks of teaching and learning here, Cerreta said.
The only change required because of testing was having fifth-graders switch their "specials" time with kindergarten.
And once the testing ends each day, he said, instruction continues.
The third-graders, taking the exam for the first time, liked it that way. They headed straight to art, music and PE after the test. Then they practiced reading comprehension skills, ate lunch and did a science lab on force using balloon rockets.
"We don't just go home for the rest of the school year," third-grader Jack Malley said as he prepared for a game of music bingo in music class.
"We have to start getting ready for fourth grade," classmate Alek Kacpura said.
The children get some leeway. PE instructor Melody Johnson, for instance, gave her first class after the test some unstructured play time, rather than putting together a full lesson.
Some played with Hula Hoops. Others had a pickup kickball game. Yet others battled at tetherball.
"I know after testing all morning, I have extra energy to expend," said Johnson, who proctored the test. "That's why I give them free choice. But then the school day goes on."
Third-grader Jimmy Jackson said he liked having regular days "because you learn more."
At the same time, his classmates also enjoyed knowing that they weren't doing too much new material. Plus, there was the added incentive of no homework.
Still, they gave teacher Carrie Fallon-Johnson their undivided attention as they read together The Secret of Zoom, following along closely and making predictions of what might happen next. Fallon-Johnson said her class seemed unfazed by the FCAT and eager to get on with the lessons of the day.
That didn't mean the test was far from their minds, though.
"Some kids are curious. They might fail or succeed," said third-grader Madison Reid as she Hula Hooped. "I'm pretty good at reading. I think I got an A or a B. I want to find out."
But that will take time, the kids recognized. So they satisfied themselves with knowing that the test was almost over — just one more 70-minute math session.
"On Friday, it goes back to regular things," explained third-grader Brianna Collins.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.