Try your hand at one of states school tests

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2006

Feb. 15, 2006

Mrs. Tuccio&8217;s students should already know more than half of what fourth-graders have to know before becoming fifth-graders.

And if they don&8217;t know it by now, the next few months are probably only going to go downhill.

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Testing season has started, though the Mississippi Curriculum Test is still 76 days &8212; weekends included &8212; away. And though the district will try, it&8217;s a little late for remediation.

Ms. Bell was out on Friday, and the assignment she left for her substitute was to administer certain portions of the MCT practice test. The students worked through recess (it was raining) on the reading test, and then completed the language portion.

There&8217;s no reason they shouldn&8217;t have aced it.

I only visit the class about once a week for a little more than an hour, but every major section on the practice test was something I&8217;ve heard Ms. Bell teach them.

There was a section on antonyms and synonyms, fact versus opinion, reading comprehension, the parts of a story, fiction versus nonfiction and compound words. I think I&8217;ve even written a column on most of these topics.

The only questions I could see tripping them up were the ones about the main idea of a given sentence, because all of the answers were appropriate, but not necessarily the best answer.

On the language test questions asked students to choose the best way to combine two sentences, identify sentence fragments, find the compound subject and predicate, pick the answer with the correct capitalization and punctuation and tell whether a sentence is interrogative, declarative, imperative or an exclamation.

I can remember the pressure of taking standardized tests as a kid. I never thought they were hard, but by question 50, day 3, part 2, your brain gets kind of mushy.

Simple questions get harder, and the stress becomes somewhat overwhelming.

Kids usually take one of two routes at this point. They get tired and just start putting down answers, or they flip out and spend far too much time on one question.

I did the latter. Walter Turner Jr. did the former Friday.

About halfway through his language test, Walter put his pencil down and draped his body across the table he was sitting at in Broadway caliber fashion and declared he was too tired to continue.

The substitute replied that the world is tiring, and told him to finish the test. But Walter never regained his focus. (Talking to me &8212; he showed me very pretty earrings he&8217;d bought for him mom for Valentine&8217;s Day &8212; was a good distraction.)

There&8217;s only one way to beat mushy-brain syndrome &8212; preparation. (Well, maybe two. The teachers at Vidalia Upper Elementary bought their students &8220;magic&8221; triangular pencils for last year&8217;s state test.)

Friday&8217;s practice test may be one of the best ways to prepare. Students are exposed to the test, they realize it&8217;s long and they learn what to expect. The more they take the practice test, the greater their endurance becomes. It&8217;s like running a marathon (not that I know anything about that).

The other key is to know the material. Even mushy brains that have the right answer engrained in them can get 9 out of 10 questions right.

I covered a speech a few years ago by the Disney Teacher of the Year &8212; Ron Clark. The guy was a bottle rocket of energy and a little on the fidgety side, but his ideas were solid. To prepare his low-income, misbehaving, Harlem students for their test, he enlisted the entire community. He gave flashcards of testable material to the janitors, bus drivers and cafeteria workers. To get lunch, the students had to answer a question correctly. He asked parents, and other residents to verbally quiz any of his students they saw on the street.

There&8217;s no reason Natchez can&8217;t do this. The Mississippi Department of Education has practice tests posted on their Web site at

Check it out and do you part in helping our schools succeed.

Julie Finley is the education reporter for The Democrat. She writes a weekly column based on experiences with Marty Tuccio&8217;s homeroom class at McLaurin Elementary. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or