Math Jitters Rise as FCAT Draws near but Tutoring Continues without Letup; Nassau Public Schools Have Been Preparing for the Tests since August

Article excerpt

Byline: MARY HURST

NASSAU COUNTY - This is the last week of after-school math tutoring at Yulee High School in preparation for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

And what students need to know is not your parents' mathematics.

YHS students were dissecting VIN diagrams and stem leaf plat graphs Wednesday. And then there's always the percentages dilemma.

"They give you so much mumbo-jumbo to try to confuse you," math teacher Cheri Knight advised. "Jump right into what you need to know. Don't let all the words scare you."

But as they worked, the students were scared.

"I know how to do the stuff but FCAT's confusing," sophomore Erica Cooper said. "It stresses kids out."

Her friend Kristen Highsmith agreed. She said students want to get it all right, but the multiple steps in the math portion of the test take too long to get the answer.

Knight said she tries to take the mystery out of the tests, telling the kids to use mental math and to think logically.

"You need to plug in the numbers you have been given in an algebra equation," she said. "Guess and check. Guess and check."

These students and everyone else throughout Nassau County's public schools have been preparing for the FCAT since August. For teachers and administrators, it's a year-round occupation.

Test results usually arrive in early June, and that's when the data analysis begins at the district level, the school level and the classroom level.

"Of course, we have to determine who needs to be in the 90-minute reading remediation class the following school year so it affects our scheduling right away," Yulee High School Principal Diane Romon said.

Even though Yulee High opened this year, its students are used to taking the tests. FCAT testing started in 1997. Romon said her sophomore students have been taking the FCAT since the third grade.

She said her faculty teach the subject matter and the skills required to take the tests.

"We do this throughout the year and as a new school, we wanted to set an atmosphere where the students know that there are high expectations for learning and that they need to do their best on every assignment," she said.

Faculty also identify those students in 11th and 12th grades who have not passed the test yet, which they must to graduate.

"It is very stressful for students, teachers and parents when the students don't pass the test," she said. "There's so much pressure and they have to pass the test if they want to move to the next grade or graduate. There are very few exceptions to that."

"We pooled the juniors and seniors who haven't passed the test yet and do after-school tutoring to help them prepare," she said. "And then there are those students who don't test well."

That's where Romon comes in.

"I was a terrible tester and still am," she said. "I tell them my own story. I tell them if I had to take the FCAT when I was in third grade, I'd probably still be in third grade at 25. I tell them that when I go to take tests today, I still have problems. …