4,000 Miami-Dade high-school seniors fail to pass state graduation test
By Sherri C. Ranta
About 4,000 high-school seniors in Miami-Dade County did not pass the state's exit test in time to receive a diploma in May, and 6,000 third-graders have not passed a reading test for promotion to the fourth grade.
Passage of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, for high school diplomas and promotion to fourth grade are no longer just proposals but state law, said Nereida Santa Cruz, assistant superintendent, Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
As of May, about 20% of the county's 20,000 high-school seniors had not passed the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, said Nereida Santa Cruz, assistant superintendent for Miami-Dade County Public Schools. State law requires high-school students to pass the test before graduating, and also requires third-graders to pass it before being promoted to the fourth grade.
Ms. Santa Cruz said high-school students who have not passed the math and reading test will have several more chances to pass. She said the district won't know the results of summer testing for several weeks.
She said some of the high-school students who have not passed the FCAT also have not met graduation requirements that include a 2.0 grade-point average and 24 credit hours passed.
The district is tracking members of the Class of 2003 who have not passed the FCAT, she said, and is offering them another year of high school with intensive remedial courses, night school with additional chances to pass the test and fast-track GED preparation.
"We've had a history of a high-school exit test in Florida for many years," she said. "The difference is that the exit test has gotten harder. The FCAT is more difficult than the High School Competency Test," the state's predecessor to the FCAT, first administered in the 2002-03 school year.
High-school students take the FCAT for the first time while in 10th grade.
"We're always focusing on those children potentially at risk for not passing the test. It is a big part of high-school life now," Ms. Santa Cruz said.
Third-graders also faced the FCAT challenge for the first time this year, Ms. Santa Cruz said. Pupils who have not shown a basic reading level on the test will be held back.
State Sen. Frederica Wilson of Miami took a group of third-graders to the state capital to protest the FCAT requirement. She said the law is unfair because it puts too much emphasis on one high-stakes test.
The school district invited third-graders who did not pass to summer reading camps for intensive study.
Many students did not attend, Ms. Santa Cruz said. She said parents expressed disappointment that their children would not be tested again for promotion.
Some students were offered a chance to pass another test for promotion, Ms. Santa Cruz said, but others tested so far below the standard that several weeks of intensive study would not have been enough to lift them to promotion level.
The district is disappointed with the parental response, Ms. Santa Cruz said. "Research tells you over and over again that kids lose a percentage of what they learn in the summer because they are not engaged in academic activities."
Statewide, about 13,000, or 9%, of 138,000 high-school seniors did not pass the FCAT. In 2002, about 10,500, or 8.3%, of the state's 131,000 students did not pass the High School Competency Test in eighth grade, said Frances Marine of the state's Department of Education.
About 23% of the state's third-graders did not passing the FCAT, down from the 27% who did not pass the High School Competency Test in 2002.
Reading camps around the state received criticism this summer, Ms. Marine said, because not all students who attended were able to be promoted. About 15% of the students will be able to pass the additional test for promotion, she said. "But for us, we measure success with any improvement."