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FCAT Retake Programs Give Students Another Shot At Success

Rhema Thompson

Kedrick Brown knows what can happen when you don’t pass Florida’s statewide exams by senior year.

“My brother was one of them and he stressed it to me enough all the time,” he standing in class on a recent morning. “He always told me that you know, you should focus all the time because he wishes he could go back and take it and now he has to get his GED and all this stuff.

Up until this October, the Westside High School junior faced a similar scenario. While other students across the state have been gearing up for the new Florida Standards Assessment, Kedrick and others in his class have been refining their test-taking skills for its predecessor, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test–or FCAT.

Last year in 10th grade, Brown scored a 2 on the Reading Assessment.

In order to pass, students must score a 3. Those students who do not score at least a 3 by the spring of their senior year do not get a standard high school diploma.

“They get a certificate of completion, which they can come back and take the test to have that changed over to a high school diploma,” explained Westside teacher Jameel Jones. “But no one wants to be in school for 12, 13 years... make it this far and not have that cap and gown moment.

Brown, however, will likely get his cap and and gown moment. He scored a 3 this October on the FCAT retake exam. It’s an achievement he credits to the retake course.

“I think it’s just the environment that you’re in,” Brown said. “It makes me more comfortable knowing that Mr. Jones was more hands on.”

In the class, Jones neon-colored posters on expectations and test-taking tips deck the walls. On the white board is a lengthy exposition of an acronym known as TAP, as in, Topic, Activity and Purpose--a method for making sense of reading text.

And he won’t take simple no or yes from his students. He expects an explanation.

“Whether you give me the right answer or the wrong answer, there’s going to be a ‘why?’” he said.

Jones said the focus on the course is not just on the scores, but on the students behind them.

“If they see that I care and I’m going to give effort that I can, I think it gives them the umption to put in their best effort.

There are more success stories in the district like that of Kedrick Brown story this year.

The number of 10th and 11th grade students who retook and passed the FCAT reading exam in fall 2014 is up after taking a dip in 2013.

Fourteen percent of 10th graders passed the retake this year. That’s up from 7 percent in fall 2013 and 10 percent in fall 2012. Eleventh graders fared slightly better this year as well with 24 percent passing after retaking the exam compared to 20 percent in 2013 and 22 percent in 2014.

The percentage of seniors who passed the retake in 2014 - 20 percent - is slightly lower than in 2012 - 21 percent - but up from a low of 17 percent in 2013.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said efforts like the FCAT retake course at Westside and the reading enrichment course at high-performing Frank H. Peterson Academies are helping the numbers tick back up again. He was joined by Florida House Representative Manny Diaz of Miami to visit schools and discuss other strategies to improve FCAT scores.

“I think sometimes these are the groups that get forgotten after they take the test the first time,” he said. “People don’t realize these kids still have to pass the test in order to graduate and if affects your graduation rates directly.”

Diaz, who heads the Choice and Innovation Subcommittee, spent part of the morning in Peterson’s enrichment class.

But the latest data still shows the district has more work ahead.

Most of the data still comes up slightly short of the state. And while this year’s retake successes place the district near the top of Florida’s seven largest urban districts in 10th grade retakes, it ranks near the bottom of the list in 11th grade successful. In 12th grade, the district ranks in the middle.

But at least for Westside 11th-grader Kedrick Brown, the future is looking brighter.

“I’m feeling very, very good,” he said.

In the next two years, he said he plans to pursue architecture at Florida A & M University.

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.

Rhema Thompson began her post at WJCT on a very cold day in January 2014 and left WJCT to join the team at The Florida Times Union in December 2014.