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March 31, 2003

Deutschman : ESE legislation 'promising'

From: Citrus County Chronicle, FL - Mar 31, 2003

Bill would ease test strictures

Mike Wright

The Scott Jacksons of this world have caught the attention of Florida lawmakers.

With school board members from throughout the state in attendance Thursday, the state House of Representatives enthusiastically passed a bill that would ease standardized test requirements for high school students who have disabilities, such as being deaf or blind.

The vote for HB 1739 was 116-0.

The bill would allow students with some disabilities to graduate even if they fail the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT.

Many special-education students, such as Jackson, have disabilities that do not impede their learning.

Jackson, a Lecanto High School honor student, has trouble with the reading portion of the FCAT because his first language is American Sign Language.

By federal law, Jackson has had an interpreter all his years in public school.

Jackson can read, but American Sign Language translates words into visual signs and gestures. Students like Jackson have difficulty in comprehending an entire written passage, as the FCAT requires.

School board member Pat Deutschman – who a few weeks ago introduced Jackson and an autistic child to state Rep. Charlie Dean and Sen. Nancy Argenziano – was in attendance Thursday and said she was overwhelmed by the support.

"It brought tears to my eyes, I was so happy," she said.

The bill would allow students with disabilities to receive a standard high school diploma without passing the FCAT, as long as they have the required number of credits and are following an individual education plan.

Educators would decide whether the FCAT accurately measures the student's abilities.

The legislation is not yet introduced in the Senate.

Deutschman said Argenziano, R-Dunnellon, told her it will be introduced and has broad support.

"This bill came out of nowhere," Deutschman said. "This is a great step forward and it's very, very promising."

Jackson's mother, Holly Babyak, said she was cautiously optimistic.

"It's a lot of jargon I don't understand," she said. "If it goes through and they say they're going to do what they're going to do and the governor signs it, then, yeah, I'll be real happy."

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