tampabay.com

FCAT might not stop grad walk

If okayed, only a 2.0 GPA and 24 credits would be required.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published April 27, 2007


DADE CITY - Year after year, the Pasco County School Board has held firm: If a high school senior hasn't passed the FCAT, that senior can't participate in graduation ceremonies.

Through the sobbing and the pleading of parents and students, the district has remained one of the few in Florida to insist that teens meet all the state graduation requirements - 2.0 grade point, 24 credits and a passing FCAT score - to walk across the stage in cap and gown.

Next week, the School Board is set to change that. It has a new policy up for final review and adoption that would allow the seniors who have completed everything but the FCAT to walk. They still wouldn't qualify for a diploma, but they would get to take part in the event.

The school advisory council at Pasco High couldn't be less pleased.

"The rules are the rules and you have to play by them," said SAC member Carol Hedman, whose son will graduate next month. "I know other counties don't have this, but why should we lower our standard?"

She and others on the advisory council unanimously agreed to urge the board not to change its long-standing rule.

"We're not here to debate whether FCAT is good, bad or indifferent," said SAC chairman Dale Maggard, whose son also graduates in May. "The standards that are there are set by the state."

If the School Board backs away from the FCAT requirement, he said, it's just a matter of time before a new set of kids with a different set of concerns comes forward. It could be the senior with 23.5 credits, or the one with a 1.98 grade-point average.

It's like pulling a thread on a sweater - tug too hard and it all unravels.

"Probably more important than that is what kind of message are we sending to the other 95 percent or so of children who have strived their whole life to achieve what they've been told they have to do?" Maggard said.

Laurel Weightman, whose son is class salutatorian, said the decision could send the wrong message to the students who are allowed to walk without completing all the graduation requirements too.

"That is sending them out into the real world as a young adult with the wrong perspective," she said. "There's got to be accountability and responsibility, and the school district should be teaching that, not making exceptions to it."

Weightman noted that seniors have six chances to pass the FCAT, and they have alternatives to that test to qualify for graduation. Students can substitute an acceptable ACT or SAT score, or pass the GED before graduation, and still qualify for a diploma.

Pasco High principal Pat Reedy, who also sits on the advisory council, said high school principals have discussed this "touchy" subject too. Not everyone agrees, he acknowledged.

But Reedy joined his school's parent and community leaders in their opposition to the proposed change. He contended that schools should be preparing teens for the future, and that means how to complete tasks and meet deadlines.

"Life is tough. We've all had to overcome some adversity," he said. "That's a valuable life lesson."

In case the policy change passes, Reedy and Wesley Chapel High principal Andy Frelick have asked assistant superintendent Jim Davis in an e-mail how to introduce the kids crossing the stage.

"By the power vested in me by the state of Florida and the School Board of Pasco County, I certify this graduation" doesn't exactly work if not everyone is graduating, they noted.

Davis replied, "Just make the statement, '[I] certify these students have satisfied district requirements.'"

Board passage looks likely, as members unanimously approved the change on first reading.

Chairwoman Marge Whaley, for one, says the revision is long overdue. She tells the story of a student she knows who sat in the fetal position for three days after missing her graduation ceremony because of the FCAT requirement.

Board member Cathi Martin said she was torn, as she understood both sides of the argument. She remained noncommital. Allen Altman, who supported the current policy while on the Pasco High advisory council, said he has "mixed emotions" and is reconsidering.

"I'm still gathering additional information and talking to folks," he said. "The policy obviously needs to be reviewed."

Hedman recalled the story of some migrant students who came before the board a couple of years ago. They had met most requirements for graduation but, because of the language barrier, could not pass the FCAT reading section. She said she supported the students' request to walk, but the board denied it.

If the rule was good enough then, she said, it's good enough now.

"The School Board is flip-flopping," Hedman concluded. "Where do you draw the line?"

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com 813 909-4614 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505 ext. 4614. For more education news, visit The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Fast Facts:

 

Only a small number don't walk

The Pasco County School Board has not allowed seniors who don't pass the FCAT to walk at graduation. The numbers of students the rule has affected has been small.

2005-06: 85 students met all requirements except FCAT, out of 3,294 graduates

2004-05: 44 students of 3,085

2003-04: 47 students of 3,001

Source: Pasco County School Board