A group of religious leaders and some lawmakers in south Florida are
threatening to carry out a statewide boycott of Florida's tourism,
sugar, and citrus industries if Gov. Jeb Bush doesn't reconsider the
high-stakes nature of the state's accountability exams.
This year, for the first time, seniors must pass the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, in order to graduate. State education officials say that some 13,000 seniors in Florida will not qualify for a diploma this spring because they failed the FCAT.
In addition, more than 40,000 3rd graders around the state have not passed the reading exam this year and may be prohibited from moving on to 4th grade.
Some African-American leaders in Miami-Dade County argue that it's wrong to have a single test determine whether a student graduates or is promoted to the next grade. They have sent a letter with 150 signatures to Gov. Bush, asking him to consider alternatives to the exams.
The Republican governor is under political pressure as well from members of the state's Latino community, who argue that the exams unfairly penalize English-language learners. ("Graduation Requirements Put Gov. Bush to the Test," April 23, 2003.) The Rev. Richard Bennett, the executive director of the African-American Council of Christian Clergy, which represents 300 churches and 250,000 parishioners in Miami-Dade County, said that if Mr. Bush failed to respond to concerns raised over the impact of the exams, a boycott would begin May 22.
"If we can put some impact on the dollars coming into the state, then we will be heard for sure," Mr. Bennett said. "If this is what we have to do to get the governor's attention then we have to do it."
Alia Faraj, Gov. Bush's press secretary, said the governor remains committed to the FCAT, which has become the most controversial piece of his "A+ Plan" to improve accountability in Florida schools.
"The governor is disappointed about the proposed boycott and has said, 'Shame on residents of this state who would do anything to impact Florida's economy,'" Ms. Faraj added. "The A-plus plan has challenged students to do better," she said, "and the governor expects nothing less of them. ... The FCAT is a 10th-grade-level test, and it would be unconscionable for us to graduate students who can't achieve at a university or in the workforce."
Vol. 22, Issue 37, Page 17Published in Print: May 21, 2003, as State Journal