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Testing season takes over bay area high schools

NEW PORT RICHEY — Ian Hallisey had no illusions about what school would be like after returning from spring break: tests, tests and more tests.

He has the exit-level FCAT in math and reading, which begins Monday. But that is the least of his concerns. Before the year ends, Hallisey also faces three Advanced Placement tests and finals in all six of his academic courses.

"The learning process for us is basically over," said Hallisey, a sophomore at Pasco County's Gulf High School. "Now it is basically studying and whatever preps we can make."

Gulf, like so many other Florida high schools, has some sort of testing scheduled every day through the end of classes. In addition to the FCAT, students will take AP and International Baccalaureate tests, state end-of-course exams and a new Post-Secondary Education Readiness Test.

The schools will host ACT and SAT testing, run another round of the Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading (FAIR) and administer course finals. Some districts will add another layer with tests such as Hillsborough's district benchmark writing exam and Pasco's CORE K-12 science and math tests.

"It's organized chaos," said Diane Roberson Rivers, testing coordinator at Strawberry Crest High School in Hillsborough.

School computer labs get commandeered for testing, putting student projects and research on the back burner. Classes get displaced to provide space for the paper-and-pencil test-takers.

And coursework gets set aside so students can practice taking the state's end-of-course exams before sitting for the real version.

"That disrupts class, too," Roberson Rivers said.

At Strawberry Crest, things get so hectic — particularly around the FCAT — that students who aren't testing can get permission to arrive after the daily examination window closes, so the school can keep its focus on testing.

Some parents are beginning to push back.

There has been talk of families opting out of the FCAT. There's also movement to urge lawmakers to scale back Florida's testing.

Palm Beach parent and activist Rita Solnet, who helped coalesce opposition to the "parent trigger" bill during the 2012 legislative session, is trying to focus attention on the issue.

She has put together a Florida-specific version of a resolution that hundreds of Texas school districts have adopted calling for a reduction on the reliance of standardized and high-stakes testing. She gave a copy to the Palm Beach School Board last week, and had colleagues present it to boards in Broward, Orange and Duval.

"The message is the same," she said in an email to the Times. "It's opposing the overreliance of standardized tests."

Gulf High is trying to make the testing more a routine part of the day. For the first time this year, the school decided not to put out the "closed" sign during exams.

Juniors and seniors who have passed the FCAT will have classes as usual. "We didn't want to send the wrong message to a percentage of the school," said principal Steve Knobl.

Students, however, have grown up in an era of accountability testing.

"They started when No Child Left Behind became law and added to Florida's already heavy testing regimen, so they think it's normal to lose a month to testing," said Bob Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest, a group that opposes high-stakes testing.

He counted Florida among the worst "test abusers" in the country, for implementing a large battery of tests and using the results for a broad range of decisions, including whether students graduate, get promoted and qualify for vouchers. Tests also now being counted more heavily in teacher evaluations.

"No matter what you think is the proper value of testing, Florida is at the overkill level," Schaeffer said.

Of course, some of the tests bring benefits to the students. Teens who successfully complete AP and IB exams, for instance, can walk into college with dozens of credits under their belts.

But that doesn't lessen the stress they feel as they deal with the final weeks of school.

"You're so overwhelmed. You have so much left to do," said Kaitlyn Lee, a Gulf High senior who will take several IB exams. "I have to break it down into little pieces just so I can get it done and don't freak out."

Strawberry Crest's Roberson Rivers said she sees the value in testing. Students need feedback on how well they have learned their material. Teachers can use the results to improve their instruction while figuring out the best placement for students in future classes.

"We need data. I understand that," she said. "But we get an awful lot of data."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at jsolochek@tampabay.com, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Busy schedule

Many schools will be testing every day through the end of the year.

MONDAY TUESDAY WEDNESDAY THURSDAY FRIDAY SATURDAY
APRIL 16

FAIR

FCAT retakes

FCAT reading, math and science, grades 3-11

APRIL 17

FAIR

FCAT retakes

FCAT, grades 3-11

Stanford 10, reading, grades 9, 10

APRIL 18

FAIR

FCAT retakes

FCAT, grades 3-11

Stanford 10

APRIL 19

FAIR

FCAT retakes

FCAT, grades 3-11

Stanford 10

APRIL 20

FAIR

FCAT retakes

FCAT, grades 3-11

Stanford 10

APRIL 21

APRIL 23

FAIR

FCAT, grades3-11

Biology I and Geometry state end-of-course exams (EOC)

APRIL 24

FAIR

FCAT, grades 3-11

APRIL 25

FCAT, grades 3-11

APRIL 26

FCAT, grades 3-11

APRIL 27

FCAT, grades 3-11

APRIL 28

APRIL 30

Biology and Geometry exams

Algebra I state end-of-course exam (EOC)

MAY 1

EOC exams

MAY 2

EOC exams

International Baccalaureate (IB) exams

MAY 3

EOC exams

IB exams

MAY 4

EOC exams

IB exams

MAY 5

SAT

MAY 7

EOC exams

IB exams

Advanced Placement (AP) exams

MAY 8

EOC exams

IB exams

AP exams

MAY 9

EOC exams

IB exams

AP exams

MAY 10

EOC exams

IB exams

AP exams

MAY 11

EOC exams

IB exams

AP exams

MAY 12

MAY 14

EOC exams

IB exams

AP exams

MAY 15

EOC exams

IB exams

AP exams

MAY 16

EOC exams

IB exams

AP exams

MAY 17

EOC exams

IB exams

AP exams

MAY 18

EOC exams

IB exams

AP exams

MAY 19

MAY 21

IB exams

MAY 22

IB exams

MAY 23

MAY 24

MAY 25

MAY 26

Note: This list does not include final exams for individual courses or tests offered in specific districts, such as the CORE K-12 benchmark tests in Pasco and the Hillsborough district writing benchmark exam.

Testing season takes over bay area high schools 04/14/12 [Last modified: Saturday, April 14, 2012 9:38pm]
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