MIAMI-Since its inception in 2001, propelled by then Gov. Jeb Bush, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test has been a source of deep contention in the black community.
State Sen. Frederica Wilson has been one of the test’s most vocal critics. The former elementary school principal, Miami-Dade School Board member and state representative has not only renewed her call for the abolition of the FCAT but has more recently said that it was a factor in crime and drug abuse.
Wilson was joined at an Aug. 11 press conference by School Board Member Wilbert “Tee” Holloway, Bishop Victor Curry, president of the Miami-Dade NAACP, and several other black pastors and community leaders to denounce the test.
Wilson, a candidate for Congress, said that black students faced dire circumstances because of the test.
“So they take drugs to numb their pain. And after they take drugs they're in the fuzz, they don't even know where they are. They join a gang, they pick up an AK-47, they sell drugs, they turn to crime, they're jobless, they're fearless, and they're godless," Wilson said at the press conference.
But the FCAT has not been without its supporters who say the test is able to turn around under-performing schools. T. Willard Fair, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Miami, issued a statement slamming the call at the press conference to do away with the test.
“Maybe it’s me, but had the black community spent the last decade fighting to make sure our neighborhood schools prepared our children to pass the test, instead of fighting the FCAT, these statistics wouldn’t look nearly so bad,” Fair said in the written statement. He included statistics showing that black students have improved their performance on the test but even then still lag behind white students.
“More black elementary and high school students tested at or above grade level for reading and math in 2010 than in 2009, narrowing the ‘achievement gap’ between black and white students by one to two percent. Change, but not changed enough,” Fair said in his statement.
In a telephone interview Tuesday, Fair said speakers at the press conference were “once again obviously promoting themselves and not thinking about the children.”
A call to Wilson’s office brought a request for a copy of Fair’s statement but no comment.
Fair, who is serving his second term as chairman of the State Board of Education, said for Wilson to “assert that many students who failed the FCAT turn to crime, is the height of irresponsibility.”
For Wilson to propose that the state drop the FCAT and develop vocational programs that help students earn industry certification without having to pass the FCAT was especially reckless, Fair said, “since all the jobs that pay any kind of reasonable money are going to require a post-secondary education.”
While many parents joined the initial anti-FCAT fervor, many realized that the test was not going away and made efforts to help their children to pass.
Latonia Ritchey, a parent, echoed Fair’s comments. Her four children passed the test on their first try. Her two daughters now aged 18 and 17, got the maximum score of six on the writing test when they took it in elementary school.
Ritchey said she takes issue with those who link criminal activity with students’ FCAT performance.
“Crime existed before the FCAT,” she said.
Ritchey also criticized what she said was the substandard curriculum offered at inner city schools. Her daughters expressed frustration when they attended Miami Jackson High and were taught subject matter they had already learned while students at the Key Biscayne K-8 Center.
Arsharaile Walker’s 7-year old daughter has yet to take the test and she plans to ensure that when the time comes the second-grader will be prepared. Students begin taking the test in the third grade and must pass it in order to be promoted to fourth grade.
Holloway said in an interview that he attended the press conference, held outside the Miami-Dade County School Board building in downtown Miami, to show support for his community but that Wilson’s comments caught him off-guard.
Asked whether he agreed with Wilson that the FCAT was responsible for youth turning to crime, he said that Wilson “certainly stretched it to the limit.”
Curry did not respond to telephone messages seeking comment.
The FCAT adds a pressing dimension to the District 2 School Board primary election which takes place on Tuesday. All F-rated public schools are located in District 2. Solomon Stinson, the long time board member representing that district and current board chairman, is not seeking re-election.
The FCAT is given to measure achievement of educational standards set by the state. The skills outlined in the standards are also set in the material of the student’s core classes. In order to graduate, high school seniors must pass the reading and mathematics sections of the grade 10 FCAT.
Fair said the energy invested in fighting the FCAT has been fruitless.
“It’s about measuring whether or not children are where they’re supposed to be in relationship with everybody else. And that’s all,” said Fair.
Renee Michelle Harris can be reached at email@example.com.
PICTURE ABOVE: State Sen. Frederica Wilson