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On FCAT days, pencils are No. 2, but learning is still No. 1

WESLEY CHAPEL — Okay. You know that kids have been taking the FCAT since Tuesday, just as they've sat for the exam every spring for the past decade.

What's the news in that?

But admit it, you have that nagging suspicion that once the test ends each day, the kids just fool around until the bus takes them home. Teachers spend the year just prepping their students for the test, so there's no reason to give lessons or homework anymore, right?

Wrong.

The test lasts for only 60 to 120 minutes daily. And the students, at least at Seven Oaks Elementary School, do not goof off for the five or so hours that remain afterward.

"School is not over and we still have more to learn," fifth-grader Lexi Watson explained after the testing period had ended, as she worked on a speech about ghosts for a school competition. "If we go to middle school and they ask us harder stuff, how are we supposed to be able to do that if we can't do this?"

That's the work ethic that principal B.J. Smith wants all the students to have. The FCAT, she said, is just one part of what otherwise should be a regular school day.

"They're in class. They're learning," she said of her expectations for post-testing periods.

The four classrooms in Lexi's intermediate pod sure were.

The third-graders pulled out their theme folders for social studies and broke into pairs to work on their "trip papers." Each group had an assigned state, and it had to gather information about the state's people, history and economy.

The fourth- and fifth-graders, meanwhile, focused on their Tropicana speech contest entries.

As for the test, well, it was over and few kids lingered on it. To them, the test just wasn't that big of a deal.

"They need 10 to 15 minutes after the test just to take a breath," fourth-grade teacher Jenna Palank said. "Then we actually jump back in, and they are fine with it."

In fact, some third-graders said, spending time waiting for the test was perhaps the worst part.

"I was freaking out because I thought it's really scary. I've never taken the FCAT," third-grader Willie McGillis admitted.

But as he took the FCAT, Willie said, "I thought it was easy because it was just like a regular test."

And it was "just a normal day where you take a test," fifth-grader Carlos Rodriguez said as he reviewed a science lesson in his portable classroom.

So it made perfect sense to have the usual 90-minute reading block in Laurie Bazick's fifth-grade class, with kids quizzing one another about a story of hatmaker John Stetson, focusing on the schoolwide skill of compare and contrast. And for the class next door to study about force and motion.

The FCAT certainly was real.

Even after the testing period ended, quiet campus rule (no outdoor recess, no talking in the walkways) remained in force to be courteous to the students with special needs who were still taking the test. The walls stayed covered with colored paper to prevent students from seeing all the spelling words, math concepts and other lessons that hung there. And the acronym "FCAT" still appeared on whiteboards and signs and papers all over the campus.

But all the anxiety and other negatives typically associated with the test were gone, even though the kids knew full well they still had more sections to endure.

Some of Palank's students were so happy that they planned a celebration for the good luck charms they had brought to ease their nerves as they took the test. Once the school day ended, they would take their Beanie Babies, Webkinz and other assorted stuffed animals and put them in the middle of the room to party on while their owners went home.

That was one good way to ensure their good luck would still be at school when they returned for another round of FCAT in the morning.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

On FCAT days, pencils are No. 2, but learning is still No. 1 03/13/08 [Last modified: Friday, March 14, 2008 3:33pm]
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