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CRCT is a test for parents, too
East Hall Middle School Language Arts teacher Amy Webb works with her eighth-grade students Friday afternoon.

Ready or not, the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test is coming.

Local educators have gone to new lengths throughout the school year to make preparations for the test a chance to engage students rather than stress them about their scores.

“When a teacher or a school or a parent gets anxious about the testing, what they tend to do is drill, drill, drill so that (students) will memorize the answers and know the what test is going to look like,” said Gainesville City School Superintendent Merrianne Dyer.

“That’s not going to engage students for very long and that’s what’s starting to happen right now overall in the country.”

With a significant number of students learning English as their second language and coming from economic backgrounds that tend to hinder their performance on standardized tests, Gainesville and Hall County schools are getting creative when it comes to improving student performance.

At New Holland Elementary, students from kindergarten through fifth grade will dress in their finest formal wear for a prom organized by school administrators to raise awareness about the test.

Parents attend with their students and teachers quiz them both on test-taking tips so they know the best ways to help the children prepare, said assistant principal and test coordinator Gwenell Brown.

“We feel that if the parents know what’s going on then they help get the students prepared,” Brown said.

Other schools are going the more traditional route to ensure students know to rest up before test days, which are spread out over one to two week periods.

East Hall Middle School has offered Saturday school throughout the school year, according to Principal Kevin Bales.

“Some things I think we don’t talk about enough is there’s so much test anxiety with CRCT and I encourage our parents to talk to their kids about doing their best,” Bales said. “I feel like kids always want to be perfect and we want them to try to stop and say, look, it’s not about making a certain number. It’s about at the end of the test being able to say I’ve spent my time wisely and I’ve done my best work.”

But for many schools, student performance on the test is crucial to make Adequate Yearly Progress. East Hall Middle made AYP for the first time in the 2007-2008 school year and continues to improve by targeting students who need extra help.

“We run what is called CRCT boot camp, isolating students we feel may have difficulty on the test,” said Bales. Starting this week, these students will be taken out of class such as Phsyical Education and technology and given extra tutoring.

Budget cuts have hurt the school’s after-school programs, which Bales said are instrumental in giving students a boost in their test performance. Bales had to cut the program after two years.

Teachers have also added a “zero period,” which gives students about 30 minutes of added practice in CRCT subjects.

All Gainesville City schools have been able to offer after-school tutorials, Dyer said. Math camps are offered on Saturdays at Gainesville Middle School and they also adopted the 20-30 minute additional study time during the school day.

But parents play a big role in preparing students, she said.

“All of the events schools have help parents know it’s time to expect preparation,” Dyer said. “They are getting information sent home on how to help their child.”

Some helpful tips on preparing students include making sure they sleep well before each test day and eat a good breakfast, Bales said. Keeping anxiety to a minimum is also important.

CRCT testing begins April 26.