When students in third- through eighth-grade classrooms in Whiteside County took state exams last school year, 84 percent hit the mark on tests in math and reading. In Lee County, it was 87 percent.The message is already registering loud and clear in Broward County, Florida with a group of teachers and parents who have organized to return learning to their schools. Test prep just became optional for some. Unfortunately, poor children who are suffering most from the non-stop testing will have to wait for testing epidemic to die out further:
However, in Whiteside, only 51 percent of the county's class of 2008 high school students met basic standards on achievement tests. In Lee County, it was 61 percent of this year's seniors.
The story is similar in all 102 Illinois counties: Students perform fairly well through eighth grade but the percentage of juniors meeting state standards in high school is much lower, an Associated Press analysis of new state data shows. . . .
Efforts to reduce the FCAT frenzy kicked into full swing Tuesday as students got the chance to opt out of pre-tests and a team of educators tried to figure out how to purge the all-FCAT, all-the-time mentality from Broward County classrooms.
Tired of letting the high-stakes test consume daily classroom lessons, the School Board more than a month ago ordered the superintendent to find an answer. His plan of attack launched Tuesday.
"As a first step in the School Board's commitment to decrease the FCAT frenzy, the Benchmark Assessment Test [BAT], our district-developed assessment, will not be administered to all students this [school] year," Superintendent James Notter said in a letter to parents that was dated Tuesday.
Students who score a level 4 or 5 out of 5 on the reading and math sections of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test can pass on the district diagnostic, which is meant to measure progress but is not mandated by the state. It is given three times before FCAT testing begins in February.
The FCAT is more than a way to assess student achievement. Student graduation, teacher bonuses, funding and school image are tied to the test, which is given to third- through 11th-graders and measures progress in reading, math, writing and science. Students who score a 3 or higher are considered to read and perform math at grade level.
Parents of students who no longer must take the test but who want their kids to continue anyway must fill out a permission slip on the back of the letter and return it to school by Nov. 14, about two weeks before the next round of BAT tests begin.
Middle and high school students take the district test from Nov. 26 to Nov. 30. Elementary school students take it from Dec. 10 to 14.
"I think it's about time they did something," said parent activist Jeanne Jusevic, whose son and daughter attend Monarch High School in Coconut Creek. Her son regularly scores 4's in reading and math on the FCAT but "Christmas trees" the district's test, she said.
"He is so sick of the test, that he just fills it out," she said. "We really have caused school to be a painful experience for student and teachers."
Jusevic was one of about 20 parents, teachers, principals, students and district administrators who met Tuesday to determine ways to prepare students for the state's high stakes test without hurting other classroom lessons.
This was the first of several meetings that will occur over the next four months, and Tuesday the group created its mission: "How does the district transition from a FCAT prep environment focus to an environment where quality teaching of the curriculum is the focus?"
Several ideas came up, such as preparing high school students for college-entrance exams, which can be used in place of the FCAT for those students who are on track to graduate but failed the state's test. Also, creating a survey to ask students and teachers what they think would work best and developing a pilot program to see how schools would fare if they focused solely on curriculum.
"It's a real indication that enough is enough," said Deputy Superintendent Earlean Smiley. "We have to find another way to put the human element back into teaching and learning."