HS Graduation Crisis In Florida

student over test sheet AP / CBS

Nearly 13,000 high school seniors in Florida will not graduate as scheduled this year because they failed to pass a newly required state achievement test.

Some school boards around the state have voted to allow seniors who met all graduation requirements, aside from passing the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test, to participate in commencement ceremonies, although they won't receive a diploma.

But South Florida's black community leaders and legislators plan a protest this week, denouncing the FCAT as unfair to minority students. They want Gov. Jeb Bush to put aside the consequences for students who failed this year's test and re-examine the FCAT policies.

The protesters are calling for boycotts of the Florida Lottery, the state's citrus industry and its major theme parks, among other measures.

Bush administration officials have said they won't set aside the results and the governor has criticized the protesters, noting that scores have gone up since the test was started in 1998 and minority students have made some of the biggest gains.

"This is a time to celebrate, this is not a time to boycott," Bush said last week.

This is the first year that seniors have been required to pass the test, which measures reading, writing and math skills, before graduating. Those failing are roughly one of every 11 seniors.

Schradaath Charles is one of 27 seniors at Naples High who have met all the requirements necessary to receive a diploma — except passing the FCAT. Charles, 18, spoke almost no English when she came to the United States four years ago from her native Haiti.

With the new school board ruling, Charles can don a cap and gown, even though she won't get a diploma on graduation night.

"I'm really happy I get to walk with my friends," Charles said. "I'm not going to give up and I'm going to do everything I can to pass (the FCAT)."

Naples High counselor Bernardo Torres said he'd like to see the state implement a different FCAT scoring system, especially in reading, for students who are still learning English.

In Haines City, 82 seniors — more than 25 percent of the senior class — are being denied graduation because of the FCAT, principal Duane Collins said. Haines City has Polk County's highest percentage of students for whom English is a second language.

"It's easy to be upset over generalities. ... (But) the schools are not failing the kids," Collins said. "I'm just not sure we're being treated fairly with the grading system."

Seniors have had at least five opportunities to take the FCAT — once as sophomores, twice more as juniors and twice more as seniors. Those still seeking their diplomas after graduation day can continue taking the test indefinitely.

  • Justine Blau

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