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Pasco High student's graduation problem merits swift action in Tallahassee

LAND O'LAKES — Hakeeme Ishmar owes Pasco High principal Pat Reedy a special thanks.

He no longer has to retake the FCAT reading exam in the spring.

Ishmar, a Pasco High junior, missed a passing score on the mandatory test by a couple of questions. Hoping to avoid going through the test again, he took the ACT and earned a high enough score to replace the FCAT graduation requirement.

That was in October. On Nov. 30, the Florida Department of Education announced that it was changing the ACT and SAT scores that students could substitute for the FCAT.

The ACT score would rise from 15 to 18. The SAT score would be 420 instead of 410. The new rule would apply to students in the Class of 2011 — all of them, regardless of whether they had already secured a pass under the previously existing score chart.

Suddenly, Ishmar's 17 didn't look so good.

"They just changed the rules," he said unhappily. "That rule shouldn't be enforced against us."

Here's where principal Reedy comes in.

Florida Education Commissioner Eric J. Smith made a stop in Pasco County last Thursday to talk with educators about their most pressing concerns. Reedy quickly rose, and the first words out of his mouth had to do with the new ACT/SAT scores.

"We got in this business to help children," Reedy began, continuing to say that the goal needs to be to help teens graduate, now throw up roadblocks.

Sometimes, he said, that means steering students to FCAT alternatives. And in those instances, the rules need to make sense to kids. Changing the rules — in this case the passing scores — in the middle of the game for those who have already passed simply isn't fair, Reedy told Smith.

The commissioner nodded, saying the department did not want to treat students unfairly. "Those are good points you made," Smith told Reedy, promising to give the issue a closer look upon his return to Tallahassee.

Smith's memo to superintendents came about 25 hours later. He had conferred with staff, and had some new guidance to share.

"Any student who has taken the ACT or SAT prior to Nov. 30, 2009, for use as a ... score for a high school diploma may use either the new or old ... scores to meet the high school graduation requirement," Smith wrote. "Any student, unless he/she is scheduled to graduate during this school year, 2009-10, who has not taken the ACT or SAT prior to Nov. 30, 2009, must meet the new … score requirements."

The news hit the halls at Pasco High early Monday. The mood was nothing short of ecstatic.

"That's the quickest turnaround I've ever seen on an issue," Reedy said. "I wouldn't want to think my comment alone made the difference. I really don't care what caused it. It happened. We're happy."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Pasco High student's graduation problem merits swift action in Tallahassee 12/07/09 [Last modified: Monday, December 7, 2009 9:24pm]
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