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For FCAT hopefuls, another shot

As more students fail to pass, programs are available to seniors who want to retake the test and earn their diplomas.

Published June 9, 2006

Marisabel Marin finished her senior year at Jefferson High School in May but left with no diploma.

Back in class last week, she flipped through a math workbook that assessed her FCAT score, the only thing keeping her from a diploma.

After cramming for a month, she'll take the test again.

"Oh, my God, I have to pass it," said Marin, 19, who plans to go to college to study computers. "I think positive."

Marin is among 1,183 of 9,400 seniors districtwide who did not earn their diplomas this past school year. An additional 3,200 juniors haven't yet passed the FCAT. That's up significantly from last year, when about 2,800 juniors and seniors had not passed.

For another shot at the test, they can attend any one of the FCAT Academies held throughout June at 16 high schools countywide, including Blake, Hillsborough, Jefferson, Middleton and Robinson. Test dates are June 27-29.

Attendance at the summer programs is growing, says Karine Johns, the district's supervisor of adult instruction. About 1,600 students preregistered this year.

"Every student wants to get a high school diploma," Johns said.

Last summer, about 20 percent of students who attended the academies passed the test.

The district sets no age or time limit for taking the FCAT.

Classes run three hours a day Monday through Friday. Students focus on their deficiencies by analyzing newspaper articles, using FCAT Explorer and taking practice tests.

Before the class of 2003, the first required to pass the FCAT, seniors had to pass an exam requiring minimal competency - reading at an eighth grade level - to earn a high school diploma.

Under the old standard, Florida ranked nationally at the bottom, beating only Alabama, said Sam Whitten, supervisor of assessment in Hillsborough schools.

"We looked like barefoot crocodile wrestlers," he said.

The first year of FCAT testing, Florida students improved more than any other state on national assessments, he said.

But lately, 10th-grade rates have dipped.

Scores slid to a 55 percent passing rate this year compared to 56 percent last year and 60 percent two years ago.

Whitten said it may be because the district has become more impoverished and has more non-English speaking students.

Back in class, students yawn and send text messages under their desks.

Marin stares at a problem.

"Percents, decimals, fractions - that's easy," said Marin, who moved here three years ago from Honduras. "What's hard for me is the word problems."

In another corner, teacher DeEtte Collett reviews a practice comprehension test with six students.

Collett reads a question asking what "extirpated'' means based on an article about Mexican wolves.

Not even Collett knows, and they scan the article.

"Here it is," says 18-year-old Jonathan Hendricks, finding the reference in the second paragraph: "... red wolves, a species that had been extirpated decades ago in the East."

He flips back to the multiple choice answers. "It means exterminated," he says.

Hendricks plans to join the Army this summer. "The FCAT, that's the only thing holding me back."

Elisabeth Dyer can be reached at or 813 226-3321.

[Last modified June 8, 2006, 11:41:13]

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