At Miami's iPrep Academy, getting ready for the state's new standardized test includes rapping.
Two students are recording the daily announcements, telling classmates when and where they need to be starting today.
"Monday is ninth graders, with last name A to G," one student raps, in a rhyme that's no threat to Miami's Rick Ross.
"On Tuesday, it’s ninth graders with last name H through Z," his partner continues.
"All testing is in room 2 - 0 - 4!" they conclude together, Beastie Boys-style.
Today marks the start of testing season for Florida schools. Students have state exams scheduled every few weeks from now until the end of the school year. It’s the first time students will take a new test called the Florida Standards Assessments, or FSA, which replaces most FCAT exams.
It’s part of Florida’s new math and language arts standards based on Common Core.
Some grades just started using the standards this year. And Florida chose its replacement for the FCAT about a year ago. The exam is expected to be harder and won’t have just multiple-choice questions.
That’s left parents, teachers, and principals wondering if they’ll be ready for the new test -- not to mention students.
iPrep sophomore Lilian Romero got a sneak peek while field-testing questions for next year’s writing exam -- which is online now.
“We were kinda like the little guinea pigs for the testing to see if everything was working or not," she says. "So we have a feel for how the programming is working, as well as we know what tools to use and what are being provided for us.”
Passing the 10th-grade reading and writing test is a graduation requirement, and Romero thinks she’s ready.
“I’m pretty confident that I’m gonna pass it," she says. "Of course, I also have help, not just from my 10th grade teacher, but I also have help from my ninth grade teacher as well. So, I know it will be easy for me.”
Not every student feels as ready as Romero.
It’s a warm day, and freshman Beatriz Magalhaes is hanging out with her friends on the lawn near Pembroke Pines Charter High School. She says she’s looked at practice exams posted online and can’t figure out how to answer some of the new types of questions.
“It was really difficult. I didn’t understand at all what they were asking," she says.
“All I know is it’s going to be completely different, and I am not prepared whatsoever.”
In the old days, students would choose a single correct answer from four or five choices. But a new generation of online tests like Florida’s are asking different questions.
There might be two, three or more correct answers – and students have to choose all of them. Miss one and you get the entire question wrong.
Pembroke Pines Charter students say they’ve been so busy working through lessons -- they haven’t talked much about how to take the new test.
Freshman Daniel Garcia says based on practice tests, he thinks the new exam is harder.
“We took that first thing, and… I’ve been in the gifted program a long time now," he says. "And I think I got a low C on it.”
The score was a shock, he says.
Students in middle and elementary school also say lessons have felt rushed -- in order to get through everything that will be on the tests in time.
After taking a trial exam, fifth grader Natasha Benzadon is worried.
“I don’t write very quickly and they’re giving you a limited time," she says, "for this huge test that’s, like, really, really hard.
"I didn’t finish it.”
And this isn’t usually how tests go for Benzadon.
"They have been so easy for me," she says. "And I’ve always gotten good scores on them, but I’m not so sure about this test.”
But eighth grader Miikiah Stubbs trusts the teachers at Miami’s Allapattah Middle School.
“I’m expecting it to not be so hard because the way my teacher teaches," Stubbs says, "she drills it into your brain so you’ll really get it.”
How these kids do on all these new tests will help determine how public schools do on their report cards. So Florida superintendents want to suspend how those results are used this year while schools get used to the new exams.
That includes evaluating teachers, deciding which third graders move to fourth grade and whether tenth graders pass a test required for graduation.