Chase Adlawan stared at the computer screen, pencil in hand, as he pondered how to solve -5k+3= -2.
The Paul R. Smith Middle School eighth-grader had only recently completed a 72-question assessment of his algebra knowledge, and the program had identified two-step equations as an area where he needed improvement.
Chase, 15, didn't consider the problems as one of his weak points. But he is willingly attending after-school tutorials — along with more than two dozen classmates — to make sure he's ready for the spring end-of-course exam.
The test counts as 30 percent of a student's grade, and it's also a state graduation requirement.
"It's not just another test," Chase said. "I plan to do well. I'm just trying to work on the sections I need work on."
Florida has five end-of-course exams, in algebra, biology, geometry, U.S. history and civics. More are coming, and each will carry implications for student success toward a diploma.
Pasco County students had a passing rate right near the state average on the 2013 tests. But district officials would like much better results.
So this spring, they launched several initiatives outside the regular classroom for students to become more prepared.
"Our scores were not good enough," said Vanessa Hilton, director of teaching and learning. "We wanted to provide additional options. . . . This provides an additional layer of support to our students."
Much of the district effort is computerized. All of it is personalized.
It's available to students who need a refresher, and to those who have struggled. They can do the work in school or at home.
They have three ways to participate.
The district is offering self-paced virtual noncredit courses, with teachers just a phone call or email away for assistance. It has created open-access content for students to explore on their own, including general information about how the exams are structured and the benchmarks on which they are based.
It also has set up an interactive site where teachers will ask a question of the week, give students a chance to respond, then post the answer along with the full explanation and backup resources.
Pasco Middle School instructional coach Melissa Ohel is one of the teachers for the online program.
Still in the first week, she was contacting students who had registered to make sure they followed through with the pretests and to ask if they had any questions or problems.
Ohel said she liked the district's decision to get more involved in preparing kids for the end-of-course tests.
"I like that it was designed around the benchmarks so it aligns with the standards," she said. "It will be really exciting to see how it works."
Paul R. Smith algebra teacher Lindsay Melione said she appreciated the time to work with students on their specific needs. The course curriculum is so jam-packed, she said, that there's little time to spend catching up if you fall behind or get confused.
"Any kind of help we can give from the outside is wonderful," Melione said. "The more you practice anything, the better you get at it."
Students in the middle school media center found the extra work beneficial.
"I think it's actually helpful," said eighth-grader Max Myler, 14. "I'm actually afraid of failing the EOC. I'd like to stay advanced."
Eighth-grader Corina Hajj, also 14, said she wasn't nervous about the test. But she wasn't about to turn down the added support.
"It benefits me so I don't mess up with a small mistake," she said.
The students can continue with the voluntary program up to the week the exams begin. Hilton said the district will use this year's results to determine whether the initiative worked, and whether to keep it next year.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.