I recently received a letter in the mail regarding a new program being offered to incoming fourth and fifth grade students who received either a 4 or a 5 on their FCATs in third grade. My first reaction was how smart my child is and how proud I was of his accomplishments. I thought this a great opportunity for him to accelerate his learning in school and challenge him more.
The program is a virtual school class replacing either grade level reading or math with an advanced middle school level reading or math. A ton of questions came to mind: What if he starts it and struggles? Can I as a parent allow him to quit the virtual program later and return to his grade level studies and does this set a precedent that he can quit when something gets tough? What if he gets bad grades or does poorly on the FCAT? What happens when he gets to BCMS and has already taken his sixth and seventh grade math online?
In my search for answers I attended a meeting held at Keller Thursday evening. I was very surprised at the small attendance in proportion to the number of letters mailed. I can only assume many parents either weren’t interested in enrolling their kids, spoke with teachers at open house or did their own research online.
What most annoyed me was how hard it is to get answers to my many questions. “I don’t know,” was a common theme throughout the meeting. Maybe someone from the Florida Department of Education should have come to explain what is going on, or someone from a district who has used virtual classes with kids this age before, whether in Florida or another state.
I get the distinct impression the school district is not a supporter of legislation mandating virtual classes. That is understandable. It was forced on the school district, which appears to be scrambling to get the necessary set-ups in place by the deadline. The law was passed in May but our district’s teaching and learning director didn’t know about it until July 25. Sounds like a lack of communication between DOE and the school district. That lack of communication has translated into a lot of scrambling for the schools, and now parents, who are trying to make an informed decision.
I wonder if a large portion of the concern over this program reflects back to the dreaded FCAT. Funding, jobs and so much more are balanced on the scores from the FCAT and if these children aren’t learning with their grade level classes they are missing a year’s worth of FCAT prep for their grade level and the next. As Keller Intermediate has already received a D based on last year’s FCAT scores, the school can ill afford a program that could cause children who scored well last year to not do as well this year. I believe this is a chance they aren’t willing to take.
Fear of the unknown is a powerful force. Over 400 letters were sent out to parents about the meetings, and only 14 people said they were interested. If you don’t try it, you don’t know if you just passed up a great opportunity for your child. It may require a lot more work from parents to ensure their kids review for the FCAT at home in the evenings, but hey, it’s our kids and they’re worth it!
Jessica Prevatt is a married mother of two boys and the advertising/production director at The Baker County Press.