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Sun Sentinel - FCAT Closes Door for Many Students

Op-Ed

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By Frederica Wilson

The key to the next level of life is a high school diploma. Without it, you can't open any doors. Unfortunately, thousands of high school students will never receive that key even though they have completed all their coursework and passed every exam. They won't receive it because of one reason -- the FCAT.

Instead, almost 20,000 seniors will receive a "Certificate of Completion." Despite working toward graduation all their lives, they will suddenly be informed that, "No, you may not receive a diploma. No, you may not have this key to your future."

Every year, they raise the passing score, and the interpretation of those scores. Every year, more struggling students graduate without a diploma. Even "concordant" ACT Reading scores that can substitute for a qualifying FCAT score have been raised from 14 in 2003 to 18 today. The absurdity must stop.

Millions of children across Florida are readying for 'the test.' They've been taught to it for years, but you cannot prepare them for the importance it will have. Instead of 11-year-olds growing together, we have introduced 14- and 15-year-olds who have failed to pass the FCAT -- into the fold. As a former principal, I cannot tell you how harmful this is. The system should seriously be reconsidered.

What do you think happens to Timothy when he graduates with a 'Certificate of Completion'? Do you think he becomes a shrinking violet hiding under a rock? Of course not.

The day after graduation his parents will tell him: "You can't sit inside all day burning up my air-conditioning. Eating all my food. Find a job!"

Then, Timothy will try. Soon enough though, he will realize that Florida's economy is still weak, and that in his black neighborhood, where the unemployment rate remains at 14 percent instead of the national 8.2, he doesn't have a chance. From there, Timothy could easily fall into the trap of finding like-minded children, roam the streets, and experiment with drugs to ease the hopelessness and shame of not having a diploma.

I pray every night that all the Timothys across Florida don't end up as another unsolved murder -- another case the Miami-Dade Police will inform me about.

When you sleep at night, I urge you to think about the thousands of black boys roaming Florida because they don't have their key to life. Without a diploma they become more likely to commit crime, end up in prison, stay unemployed, and earn far less over their careers.

It's far easier to love a child than to repair an adult, so let's stop profiting off children with standardized tests. In 1996, it cost $4.44 per student to administer the FCAT. Last year, it cost $30.87. Enough to hire1,500 more teachers.

Let's ban tutoring companies from exploiting vulnerable children and let's stop allowing the friends of legislators who implement these tests from profiting -- even if it means banning companies like Ignite! Learning, founded by ex-Governor Jeb Bush's brother, Neil.

Not every child needs a college degree, but every child needs a key to the future. Some may use their key to open a door to a rewarding vocational career, some may use their key to explore new, creative passions, and others will use their key to propel them to law school.

Whatever their choice, let's not deny children the key to their future any longer; let's give them the key they need to move to the next level. I believe we should teach, teach, teach -- not test, test, test. We should stop awarding high school diplomas based off the FCAT, and start making sure each child has a key to open the next door.

Frederica Wilson is a Congresswoman from Florida's 17th District.


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