- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2003

The Florida office of the NAACP yesterday filed a federal complaint over the state’s use of scholastic assessment tests, saying the state must first provide a quality education before denying students diplomas and grade promotion for failing the exams.

It claims Florida provides a “racially segregated and unequal education system” that has been “preserved, perpetuated and re-established in current policies and practices in the state.”

The 33-page complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights requests an investigation into purported violations of federal law and asks that federal funds for the state’s education programs be withheld. In 2004, Florida will receive $2.4 billion in federal education funding.

The complaint from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People says federal funding should be withheld until the state can guarantee that blacks and other minority children have received “a constitutionally adequate education” and “have actually received a full and comprehensive opportunity to lean the tested curriculum.”

State Education Commissioner Jim Horne yesterday said “progress we have made in Florida — from the elementary level through the university level — flies in the face of the NAACP’s claims of racial discrimination in our schools.”

“It is unfortunate that, for political reasons, an organization would seek to do away with reforms that have made such a difference in the lives of those it purports to represent.”

In May, protesters including state and local NAACP officials called for a boycott of several major state industries after Republican Gov. Jeb Bush refused to grant a moratorium on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT.

Nearly 13,000 of the state’s 138,000 high school seniors did not graduate this year because they failed the FCAT. Nearly half of those failing students are minorities, and objectors claim that indicates the test is unfair to those groups.

Several phone calls to state NAACP officials were not returned yesterday. In the past, opponents of the FCAT have said it should not be the final arbiter of a student’s graduation or grade advancement, even though the test can be taken up to six times.

“There is more to education than writing an answer,” state NAACP President Adora Obi Nweze said in May. “You have students that can do so many other things, and all should be used to determine if they should be promoted.”

The complaint, signed by Miss Nweze, also demands reforms, including:

• Implementation of a policy for student identification and placement in state-funded gifted-and-talented programs and advanced-placement courses.

• An equitable system for dropout prevention in every public school.

• An equitable system for satisfying graduation requirements in every school.

The Office of Civil Rights has up to 30 days to review the complaint and decide if an investigation is warranted.

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