The FCAT is here, that magical standardized test that spreads stress around like frat boys spread venereal warts. Educators, students and parents have to deal with pressures that could make soldiers in Libya feel nervous. It's everyone's least favorite time of year, but like that man you all elected governor, FCAT isn't going away anytime soon.
As a teacher for seven years, I helped students and parents prepare for FCAT with tips that benefit everyone both at home and at school. These should really be part of every family's routine all year, but when I'd often suggest it, some parents complained that such work interfered with happy hour.
Moms and dads are the most important key to their children's success. Here's what you can do to make FCAT time less stressful and more productive.
• Make sure your kids get plenty of sleep. Children, preteens and teenagers need at least eight hours of uninterrupted rest each night, and some need more. So bang your drums or wife quietly. If your kids are cranky, crying or missing relatively easy homework questions, try putting them to bed earlier than normal. It works.
• Prepare a good breakfast each morning. No sugar-coated cereals or soda. Try eggs with toast or oatmeal with raisins and always include some fruit and orange juice. Coffee is unacceptable for anyone under the age of 18. Kids should discover their jittery, neurotic side like everyone else does — in college.
• Pack nutritious snacks, like granola bars, yogurt tubes and cheese sticks. Wholesome munchies help maintain energy throughout the school day. Get rid of anything with high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils and sodium benzoate. Yes, that includes Ding-Dongs.
• Look over test review materials with your children. Third grade math alone boggles the mind and Jeb Bush couldn't answer any FCAT questions posed to him, so if the work is a bit above your skill level, have your children teach you or request practice sheets with answer keys.
• Plan stress-free after-school activities. Postpone Mandarin Chinese lessons for at least a week. Your kids are exhausted.
• Don't dwell on FCAT. Find something else to talk about at night, even if it's Prince William and Kate Middleton.
• Schedule book-reading for half an hour before bedtime. This is a great way to unwind and raise reading levels at the same time.
• Be supportive. Give words of encouragement rather than the usual ironic detachment sprinkled with insults or name-calling.
• Explain that tests are important, but avoid overemphasizing results because this can often backfire, stressing out young people and making them more impossible to live with than normal.
• Encourage regular school attendance so that learning is constantly reinforced. A stable household, healthy diet and regular exercise will help keep sick days to a minimum.
• Assist with regular homework as well. Assignments done outside school are shown to increase comprehension.
• Develop a friendly relationship with your child's teachers and meet with them to discuss issues and concerns. You are on the same team, after all.
• Ask teachers for suggestions, activities and online resources for other ways to support learning at home.
• Stay on top of grades, assignments and FCAT schedules. Most of this information is posted online in your school forums and websites. Those chat rooms can wait.
• Take your kids to school, or the bus stop, consistently and on time. And preferably not in your bathrobe.
• Supervise wardrobe choices and provide comfortable, appropriate clothing instead of porn star outfits.
• If your children wear hearing aids or glasses, remind them to use these throughout the testing sessions. Self-advocacy is an important characteristic to develop in young people. Instruct them to request any and all learning plan accommodations.
Students themselves should practice good test-taking strategies like deep breaths before each session, communicating if directions are hard to understand, and reading each problem and choice carefully. Make it a habit to skip over extremely difficult questions and go back to them after easier questions are answered. When the test is finished, check everything one more time.
Good luck, everyone.