Miami Herald
April 9, 2003                
by Nicole White

TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Jeb Bush, who has made the tough Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test the backbone of his education reform, now says he is willing to consider alternatives to help some students who fail the test to graduate from high school.

Bush softened his stance after a meeting with several members of Florida's Puerto Rican community, who visited the Capitol on Tuesday.

Strategists say the hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans who live in the state will be key in the 2004 election as the governor's brother,
President Bush, seeks reelection.

''We are considering it. We're first of all trying to define what the universe is. . . . The question is how many people would be impacted by
that,'' Bush said.

Still, the governor cautioned that he was ''concerned about lowering standards or making accommodations to the point where de facto standards are nonexistent.'' ''But on the other hand,'' he said, ``we want to make sure that we're not missing some opportunity of a really bright kid who comes in 11th grade or 12th grade from another country where English is not spoken and they show they have the skills to graduate.''

A bill sponsored by Rep. John Quiñones, a Republican freshman legislator from the Orlando area, would allow the state Board of Education to use a 2.5 grade-point average or ACT or SAT scores to issue a high school diploma to students who are enrolled in English as a Second Language programs and who do not pass the FCAT.

Quiñones said he is encouraged that the governor is at least willing to consider the issue.

''I think the governor is beginning to see that this is a positive bill, a bill that will make sure that no child is left behind,'' Quiñones said.

Quiñones' proposal has the support of several Hispanic lawmakers who worry that thousands of students will not receive a diploma this year. In South Florida alone, more than 6,000 high school seniors are expected to fail the FCAT this year. This is the first year seniors must pass the test to receive a diploma.

A similar measure sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, would make the alternatives to the FCAT available to any
student who fails the test.