Skolnik, 3-4-2014

My Word: Don’t give FCAT during holy days 

Skolnik photo(Orlando Sentinel, March 4, 2014)

By Hillel Skolnik

Recently, it has become common knowledge that this year Orange, Seminole and many others counties will administer the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test for a number of grades during the week of April 14. This is distressing to many people of various faith traditions since the exams fall during Holy Week, and the night of April 14 begins the Jewish holiday of Passover.

These are special days that we all cherish, joining in prayer and having the opportunity to celebrate with our families and loved ones through festive meals like the Passover seder, which often continue well into the night.

That so many of our local school systems are choosing to administer important state-required exams during this particular week instead of beginning one week later, which would still allow for enough time for all state mandates to be followed, is both troubling and confusing.

That parents of public-school students throughout the state will now feel forced to choose between having their children participate in traditions thousands of years old or take an exam at school is simply not right.

That students who look forward to being together with friends and loved ones, gathered from near and far, at these sacred occasions might now be limited in their participation because of a state-mandated exam is plain wrong.We understand that scheduling these tests is complicated, particularly in Orange County, where our excellent school administrators are tasked with finding time for thousands of students to take these tests.

Make-up dates are offered in accommodating fashions, but some educators acknowledge that students who are tested on make-up dates do not score as well as those who are tested along with their fellow students.

Our local public-school systems and the Florida Department of Education are filled with good people who are looking to do the right thing for all the students they educate.

I respect them and appreciate their work. But if they could find a way to have the FCATs begin one week later, as was the original plan, I would appreciate them more.

Rabbi Hillel Skolnik is the spiritual leader of the Southwest Orlando Jewish Congregation, the president of the Greater Orlando Board of Rabbis and a member of the advisory board of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.