Associated Press -- June 20, 2003
by Brent Kallestad

Gov. Jeb Bush said Thursday he'll immediately sign legislation that gives high school seniors an opportunity to graduate even if they fail the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

The House passed the measure (HB 23B) earlier Thursday by a 109-2 vote, sending it on to Bush for his signature.

The legislation would allow students who fail the FCAT a chance to earn a diploma by meeting other criteria, such as achieving prescribed scores on college entrance exams or tests used for the military.

"This creates another option that's a fair one that doesn't lower standards, and I'll sign it as soon as it gets to my desk so high school students who are concerned about this will have that option," Bush said.

The bill passed in the Senate on a 38-0 vote Wednesday.

The bill also gives about 400 seniors, who have met all other academic requirements but failed the FCAT, clearance to receive a certificate of completion so they may continue their education and become eligible for the military.

Students now must pass the 10th grade FCAT to graduate. About 12,000 of this year's seniors failed the test.

The new legislation directs Education Commissioner Jim Horne to approve alternative requirements in lieu of the 10th grade FCAT and provides lawmakers an opportunity to tweak the program again as early as next year if necessary.

The measure is designed to help students who do not receive a diploma by allowing them to take an accelerated GED program.

And some students who do not speak English as their native language would be allowed to take an intense English course over the summer and retake the FCAT to get a standard diploma.