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FCAT camel question leaves critics stumped

Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 03:24 PM

Fourth-graders across Florida had more to worry about than the pressure of using correct spelling, punctuation and capitalization when they sat down for the FCAT writing test earlier this year.

They also had to figure out what they would do if they got to take a camel for a ride.

"We have had a lot of prompts over the years," Hillsborough County school board member Jack Lamb said, "but that was one of the strangest."

State education officials have been taking heat over lower scores on the writing portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test since results were announced last week. So many students were failing that state officials had to drop the score required for passing.

Now officials are under fire for a question they put before all fourth-graders in the state.

In past years, students in fourth grade have written about the weather and what classroom jobs they like. This year, however, it was about a camel ride.

"For some children, I am sure they did find this to be challenging," said Sue Creekmore, who teaches fourth grade at Kingswood Elementary in Brandon and was a finalist for teacher of the year in Hillsborough County.

"Perhaps they had no frame of reference. I think it could be difficult for particular children with more limited experiences."

"Where did that prompt come from?" Lamb asked. "You are telling me we asked kids about riding a camel? That's kind of strange in Florida."

After all, there aren't a lot of camels in the Tampa area.

Busch Gardens doesn't have a single one. Lowry Park Zoo has three, however, and you can even ride them for $4 a pop.

Jamie Mongiovi, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said committees of teachers and curriculum supervisors work with state officials on test questions. Each is reviewed for sensitivity and bias issues, she said, then field-tested.

"It's just one more factor we need to look at as we go through this process," Lamb said. "That's kind of way out there for kids.

"Unfortunately, a lot of our kids don't get to zoos," Lamb added. "Even if they get to zoos, the close proximity to a camel is very limited."

rshaw@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7999

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