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No room for exceptions
Orlando Sentinel
April 8, 2003

Our position: Students should have to pass the FCAT even if they are learning English.

Florida's new standard for high-school graduation has a lot of people understandably nervous. Passing the Florida Comprehensive
Assessment Test -- FCAT -- is essential to earn a diploma this year, but thousands of students are likely to have failed it.

A number of ideas to help those students are floating around Tallahassee. They range from flat-out waivers to alternative testing. The options may be tempting, but lawmakers should avoid any solution that lowers state standards or treats any students inequitably.

An argument can be made to exempt students whose documented disabilities interfere with their taking the test. No amount of special instruction or extra studying will correct the problems they have taking the FCAT. Testing reflects their disabilities, not their academic abilities.

That's not the case with students still learning English. Their difficulties taking the test are great, but not insurmountable. Yet Rep. John Quiñones of Kissimmee would exempt high-school students with less than two years of English from passing the FCAT. Waivers for that group wouldn't be fair to other students whose backgrounds make tests daunting, such as students raised in poverty.

An earlier proposal is on firmer ground. It would let 10th-graders new to English take the FCAT in their native tongue. The case can be made that those students deserve a diploma if they can show they have mastered the state's academic standards and made acceptable progress in English.

Florida must proceed cautiously in this area. For high-school diplomas to have meaning, they must be awarded equitably and reflect high academic standards.