WESLEY CHAPEL — Joaquin Santanache is nervous.
FCAT district and school writing results are due out today. And Joaquin and his fourth-grade classmates at Sand Pine Elementary School have seen the news that kids across Florida didn't do too well.
"I'm a little bit worried because of the newspaper and the 27 percent," Joaquin, 10, said Thursday, referring to the percentage of fourth-graders who earned a score of 4.0 or higher.
That 4.0 was considered the grade-level passing score before the Florida Board of Education on Tuesday reduced it to 3.0 amid criticism that it had made the state writing standards too high without giving schools enough time to prepare. The lower proficiency level will prevent schools from seeing major fluctuations in their state grades.
Some students didn't agree with that decision. Like many adults, they said it ignored the real problem — bad writing.
"Since they went to 3.0, they probably made a lot of kids not get the extra help they needed, so it probably wasn't a good idea," said Dylan Vomacka, 9.
Students who don't earn a passing mark on the FCAT writing test aren't held back. But they get a "progress monitoring plan" through which teachers provide special instruction to improve their writing skills.
If 3.0 is the new proficient, the children reasoned, they won't get that assistance. And that's not good.
"If a kid needs help, they need help," said Anisa Churruca, 10.
Few agreed with the assessment that they weren't prepared for the writing test. They said their teachers spent plenty of time going over grammar, spelling, punctuation and other key aspects of writing that the state added emphasis to in the scoring.
The teachers, who said they attended workshops on the state changes, also reminded them to review and correct their test essays before submitting them.
The problem, said Brian Parker, 10, was having too little time and not enough paper to complete a quality writing sample.
"To write something that perfect, you need at least 50 minutes instead of 45 to have time to revise it and think about what you want to write about," Brian said.
And with just two sheets of lined paper, and instructions to write within the margins, there wasn't much space to make fixes and additions, he noted.
"There was less time than I thought there was going to be," added Christina Bigler, 10. "You have to put a lot of detail into it if you want to get an A."
Most of the students in the classes laughed at the notion that the writing prompt, about what it would be like to ride a camel, was too confusing, as some adults suggested.
"It was easy," said Logan Gleason, 11. "I think everyone should know what a camel is. They're pretty obvious."
Their concern focused on the pressure that adults put on the test, and how it trickles down to them.
"I think they shouldn't make you all nervous and stuff," said Wyatt Doi, 10. "They shouldn't make tests that are that important that they make you fail if you don't get them right."
The FCAT is just one measure — an incomplete one at that — of what kids know, said Matthew Smith, 10.
"They should give us that and a lot of other stuff, too," he said, quickly adding that he meant more ways to evaluate their abilities, and not more tests.
The students said they already have enough of those.
"I don't even see why we have to do this after we have to do all these other tests," said John Wallace, 10. "We do thousands of tests every year, and then we have to do the FCAT. I just don't get it, why we even need to do it."
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.