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Hispanic students must learn English quickly to pass FCAT

KISSIMMEE, Fla., AP - The clock began ticking for 16-year-old Leyna Rosa Ibanos when she arrived from Puerto Rico seven years ago knowing hardly any English. She had only a few years to learn enough of the language before her sophomore year when she would take the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test, the statewide standardized test that every student must pass before graduating. Even though she gets As and Bs in her classes, she has struggled so far with the FCAT, passing the math part but twice failing the reading section. She plans to take the reading section, for a third time, this month.

"I'm very worried because I want to pass it now because in 12th grade I want to think about college," says Ibanos, a junior at Poinciana High School who in an interview is more comfortable speaking Spanish than English.

Thousands of non-English-speaking students who arrive in Florida's schools each year find themselves in the same boat. They may do well enough to pass their classes with help from English proficiency programs but then fail the mandatory high-stakes testing that has been a centerpiece of Gov. Jeb Bush's educational changes.

The test is administered in grades 4, 8, and 10 but passing the 10th grade test is required to get a diploma. Students have six chances to take the test and they can come back for another year if they fail it in their senior year.

Repeated failure can delay going to a university and fulfilling the dreams of success that motivated many families to move to the United States in the first place. Last year, nearly 14,000 high school seniors didn't pass the critical exam; of that number, roughly a third were classified as students with limited English proficiency.

"In my opinion, I don't think it's fair that we have to take the test," says Zuleima Narvaez, a 14-year-old freshman at Poinicana High who moved from Puerto Rico four years ago and is still in an English-as-a-Second-Language program. "Many students arrive in 12th grade, and if they don't pass, it doesn't take into account the efforts they have made and then they can't graduate."

The problems facing these students motivated state Rep. John Quinones to introduce a bill this legislative session that would require Florida's Department of Education to study whether there are standardized tests in other languages that could be used in place of the FCAT. The alternative tests would be eligible for students who have been enrolled in ESL programs for less than three years and who have failed to pass the grade 10 FCAT test by their senior year.

Read more at: Tallahassee.com

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