What's at stake
This year, the state is transitioning into what it calls FCAT 2.0.
It’s an upgraded exam, which will test students’ comprehension of the state’s new Next Generation Sunshine State Standards.
Those standards are considered more rigorous than previous academic benchmarks.
The FCAT for students in grades three to 10 begins Monday. Following is a list of FCAT and end-of-course exam dates for students:
■ FCAT reading and math for grades three through 10 is April 11-22
■ FCAT science tests for grades 5, 8 and 11 is April 11-22
■ The end-of-course Algebra I exam for freshmen will be May 9-27
■ Field tests for the biology and geometry end-of-course exams will be at select high schools throughout the state: May 2-June 3.
NAPLES _ The biggest test of the year for public school students starts Monday.
The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) will be given to about 200,000 students per grade level. The tests measure a student’s grasp of the Sunshine State Standards, which are benchmarks the state believes students should meet in reading, math and science at certain levels.
“It’s a high-stakes assessment for a lot of students,” said Susan McNally, executive director of secondary programs for the Collier County School District. “But it is just a snapshot to know where, on one day of the year, the student is at.”
This year, the state is transitioning into what it calls FCAT 2.0. It’s an upgraded exam, which will test students’ comprehension of the state’s new Next Generation Sunshine State Standards. Those standards are considered more rigorous than previous academic benchmarks.
Some of the changes include:
■ A ruler will be provided for math assessments in grades three and four
■ The grade four math assessment will include not only multiple choice test items, but also grid-response test items
■ Reading assessments at all levels will include a greater number of reading passages from the public domain, such as historical documents and works by classic authors
■ The reading assessments at all levels also will require “reasonable inferences and reasonable prior knowledge.”
One of the biggest changes is at the high school level. For the first time this year, high school students needing to retake the math portion of the FCAT, meaning they did not pass the test the first time they took it, will take the test online.
This year is the first time freshmen won’t take the math portion of the FCAT. Instead, most high school freshmen in May will take a new, computer-based Algebra I end-of-course exam, which will count as 30 percent of their grade.
This year also will be the last time high school juniors take the science portion of the FCAT and the last time sophomores take the 10th grade math FCAT. In the 2011-12 school year, end-of-course exams in geometry and biology will replace those tests.
By the 2013-14 school year, incoming high school students will have to pass Algebra I, biology and geometry end-of-course exams to graduate. They also will need to take Algebra II, chemistry or physics and one other rigorous science course to graduate.
Schools spent recent days getting students excited and ready for the test.
Both Big Cypress Elementary School and Palmetto Ridge High School held FCAT pep rallies for their students. Manatee Middle School held student-led conferences and an FCAT fair, which included games for students created around the benchmarks students must meet.
At Manatee Elementary School, Camp Manatee has been held on Saturdays to help students in third through fifth grade get additional help in reading, math and science to prepare for the tests.
McNally said students have been given quarterly assessments to gauge where they are, and those benchmarks have used released FCAT information from the state to help identify where potential weaknesses may be.
McNally said while the test can be nerve-wracking, students should feel confident.
“It won’t be that different from what they have seen before,” she said.
Experts repeat the mantra that they do every year when it comes to the FCAT:
■ Students should get a good night’s sleep and make sure they are at school on time.
■ Students need to think positively and stay focused.
■ For the time they are taking the FCAT, they need to leave cellphones elsewhere. Students found in “possession of a cellphone or other electronic device,” could have their exams invalidated.
It is also important students eat breakfast before they take the test, experts agree. To that end, participating McDonald’s restaurants will give students a free breakfast on Monday, the first day of testing. The breakfast offer runs from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and includes an Egg McMuffin, a choice of milk or a small orange juice, and a package of apple dippers.
It is the second consecutive year that about 800 McDonald’s restaurants statewide offered students free breakfast on the first day of the FCAT. Last year, McDonald’s restaurants in Florida served about 190,000 students a free breakfast on exam day.
Both the Collier and Lee school districts also provide free breakfast for students Monday through Friday.