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FCAT skewered as NAACP meets

Minority-student advocates, gathered here for a state convention of the NAACP, spoke out Thursday against the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and talk by some legislators to try to eliminate new class-size limitations, saying both could cause more black children to drop out of school.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People recently filed a complaint that, among other things, asks the federal government to block the use of FCAT scores to determine whether Florida students are promoted or graduate.

NAACP state president Adora Obi Nweze exhorted activists to return to their school districts and assess their schools' progress and shortcomings. She told them to develop plans for improvement and push school boards for continued change.

"The amount of movement since 1954 hasn't been great," she said, referring to when the Supreme Court made a landmark school desegregation ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education. "Our job is to help those on the right track stay on it and, for those who are not, to see the light."

During the first day of the convention, educators, lawmakers, business owners and others shared horror stories about the state's high-stakes test. Other topics included the shortage of minority educators and plans by historically black colleges to expand their outreach.

"The whole idea and purpose for education is becoming distorted," said Pat Spencer of Tampa. "Now with the FCAT, it's making youth stay on a path that's going to a dead stop."

Some teachers had stopped taking field trips to prepare for the exam, NAACP members said, and there are youngsters so worried they can't sleep at night. There have also been teenagers who, despite excelling on college-entrance exams, have flunked the FCAT.

This year, Florida school districts began using FCAT scores to help determine whether third-graders can go on to the fourth grade and whether high school seniors graduate. Thousands of students were retained and denied diplomas. In Orange County, about 13 percent of black seniors and 2 percent of white seniors failed the FCAT.

NAACP members also criticized a possible legislative move to try to overturn a recent constitutional amendment that restricts class sizes in elementary, middle and high schools. They said smaller classes allow teachers to reach more children and catch students' academic problems sooner.

Nweze said the NAACP will discuss passing a resolution today opposing any plan to reverse the new law.