Monday, November 6, 2006
7 News Features: Stress Test
Uncontrollable tears, stomach aches, vomiting -- they're usually symptoms of someone who's sick, or they can be the symptoms of someone who's about to take the FCAT. In tonight's Special Assignment Report, 7 News' Christine Cruz shows us why Florida's standardized test has become a stress test for kids.
WSVN -- They're supposed to determine intelligence and measure brain power. But questions like these from Florida's Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, are also putting kids' nerves to the test.
Molly Kaye, fifth grader: "I would, like, shake and start sweating. My stomach starts to gurgle. I have butterflies because I'm nervous."
Tiffany Harrison, tenth grader: "I get nervous, and I can't sleep the night before.
Damian Padilla: "Very nerve-wracking, very nerve-wracking."
With stakes so high, the state's standardized test has become a stress test. It has taken its toll on all children, including "A" students like 11-year-old Heather Orta.
Heather Orta: "I saw all the test booklets on the desk, and I said, 'I don't want to do this.' I just went to the bathroom and threw up because I felt so bad.
These feelings are very common because a bad score can be devastating. Students can be forced to repeat a grade or even enter a remedial program.
The test has taken on so much importance that there are even FCAT camps on weekends at places like Nova High School in Davie. Here, kids take practice tests and get plenty of test-taking tips.
Timothy Grisett: "I know if I don't pass this test it's going to hold me back, and I don't want to be held back. I'm more determined to see if maybe I can get a better score than last year."
Damian Padilla: "The more tests you take, the less nervous you'll be when you take the real thing."
Some teachers are so concerned that they're trying to take the pressure out of the preparation.
At the University of Miami, some local teachers are being trained in a program called P-Sell. It helps get kids ready through a more hands-on teaching approach working with models and experiments.
Cory Buxton: "Yes, there are things we need to instruct, but we need to intersperse instruction with action. Then, when they see those questions on the test, even if it's not what they've done, they'll be able to apply the activities they've experienced in class to that question."
Teachers from schools like Irving and Beatrice Peskoe Elementary in Homestead say they have seen results since P-Sell started there three years ago.
Tracy Fields: "We even saw in our third grade year, the first time we did it, that there was an increase in the math scores as well as the science."
But for some struggling students, it's still not enough. The anxiety can be so overwhelming, they blank out.
So their parents are turning to stess experts like Barbara Jacobs.
Barbara Jacobs: "What to look for is a lot of kids complaining of a lot of stomachaches and headaches."
Parents can help their children by not focusing on a specific score, trying to lighten the mood and encouraging them to communicate their feelings.
Barbara Jacobs: "It's also important to try, I call it stress rehearsals, where teachers go over the test situations. They simulate the experience in similar conditions."
Heather promises not to let the test get the best of her. She's learned that to score well, it's not just about using your head, but having the stomach for it.
Heather Orta: "I think this test is for good reason, because the FCAT score is to see if you can pass the grade. I don't think you should get so nervous over a test."
Keep in mind that some 50,000 third-graders fail the FCAT every year. The developers of the test say classroom teaching and curriculum have improved throughout the state since it began.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Center For Psychological Effectiveness
6950 Cypress Road
Plantation, FL 33317
University Of Miami School of Education's P-Sell Program
Contact: 305-284-5604 or 305-284-3711
Nova High School F-CAT Camp
3600 College Avenue
Davie, FL 33314