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Teachers Share Success Tips Under FCAT Stress

Despite budget cuts to school districts over the past few years that have made it difficult for some schools to perform, six elementary schools have improved their state grades from “F” to “A” in a single year.

Teachers and principals from those schools were in Tallahassee Tuesday to talk with Gov. Charlie Crist about strategies the schools have used to improve their standings.

Each school in the country is required to show annual yearly progress through standardized testing, which in Florida is the FCAT. In 2008, Mollie Ray Elementary School in Orlando, Navy Point Elementary School in Pensacola, George S. Hallmark Elementary School in Pensacola, Liberty City Elementary School in Miami and Miami Community Charter School in Florida City all struggled on FCAT scores and received an F from the Department of Education.

“F's aren't fun,” Crist said at the gathering of educators in his Tallahassee mansion.

Pamela Frick, a reading coach at Navy Point Elementary, said that the F grade was like a “kick in the stomach.”

But the teachers at Navy Point met with principal Linda Brown grade-by-grade to discuss what they needed to do to make yearly progress. Part of the solution was community involvement. The school recruited some volunteers and some people even called Brown offering to volunteer as tutors.

“It was like a troop coming in to help...” Frick said. “It's the best year I've had in 22 years at Navy Point.

In 2009, Navy Point, and the other five elementary schools, received “A's.”

The stress of the FCAT exams, both on students teachers, has been well reported statewide. Schools are ranked based on FCAT scores and students are prepped throughout the year for the exam. Some education reformists have criticized the system because many teachers feel they are teaching for the test, not for general education. Some Democrats have proposed abolishing the FCAT, but the proposal has yet to gain traction.

And, several teachers and principals said relief of improved scores was evident. Parents and students were calling the schools offering their congratulations, administrators said. One teacher said a student of hers started crying because he was so relieved and another teacher said she personally felt immensely relieved.

“I don't think my feet touched the floor for a week when I found out we were an 'A' school,” said Dian Isert, a fourth grade teacher at George S. Hallmark Elementary School.

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