By Greg Gelpi
For Demarcus Worthy, 8, last week's spring break involved more studying than it did sun and fun.
Worthy, a third-grader at Swint Elementary School, used his time away from school to prepare for next week's Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.
The standardized tests administered to elementary and middle school students started having consequences last school year. Third-graders had to pass the reading portion of the test in order to be promoted to fourth grade. In addition, this year fifth-graders must pass the reading and math portions of the test in order to be promoted to sixth grade. The tests also help determine if a school makes adequate yearly progress according to the No Child Left Behind Act.
Despite the consequences, students are confident that they'll pass.
"I've been studying the whole spring break," said Worthy, whose friend was held back twice. "I studied a whole bunch. I think I'm going to do great because I've been studying."
His classmate Almondo Woods, 9, actually said that the test will be fun, although it's hard. The test is simply a matter of recalling the material students already learned.
Both have been taking practice tests in class and at home.
Kimberley Owens, a third grade language arts teacher at Swint, said that students have been preparing for the test "since day one."
"The only thing that makes this test different is that it's cumulative," Owens, the school's teacher of the year, said.
Along with teaching the material that will be on the test, she has been teaching students how to take tests and not to panic.
"I've had parents who are nervous because it's a pass or fail test," Owens said, adding that the school has been educating parents on the CRCT. "We sent home a plethora of information. I think they're ready."
Teachers have also been working with students in small groups and individually to assess the strengths and weaknesses of each student, she said.
Swint fifth-graders Thomas Robertson, 10, and K'Niqua Browne, 11, are thinking about the consequences of not passing the test, but both think that they will pass.
"What I've been doing to prepare is paying more attention to the teacher and doing math problems at home," Browne said.
Faith Duncan, principal of Arnold Elementary School, said the standardized test is a review of what students should have been learning throughout the school year if teachers have been following the state curriculum guidelines.
"It's not something that you can come in and cram for at the last minute," Duncan said.
The school has been giving its tests using a format similar to that of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, she said, and parents took the practice test during a parents' night so they can help their children.
Duncan has been telling her students to take their time with the tests, get their rest and eat a healthy breakfast.
Jane Lofton, the director of the school system's nutrition program, said that breakfast will be offered at no cost to students taking the standardized test next week.
"We do that as a service because we want every student to go into it with a full stomach," Lofton said.