FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) – The U.S. Department of Education is investigating whether Florida’s statewide assessment test discriminates against disabled students by failing to provide special accommodations they need to take the exam.

If the department’s Office for Civil Rights finds the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test violates federal law, it can force the state to change policies regarding the test or withhold federal money.

The office began its investigation after receiving about a dozen complaints saying disabled students were not being given the accommodations they needed to take the test, which students must pass to be promoted to the next grade.

The accommodations sought include providing visual cues to help with test directions, giving extra examples for practice, letting students listen to audiotaped directions and questions, and providing a computerized version of the test.

A governor-appointed task force recommended that schools make certain accommodations to disabled students, but federal officials expressed concern that those measures were not made available because of “time and logistical constraints.”

State officials say Florida has worked hard to give options to students with different abilities.

“I think we’ve been very responsive,” said Shan Goff, deputy chancellor with the Florida Department of Education.

In January, the state Board of Education voted to allow special education students accommodations such as dictating answers into a tape recorder. Braille and large-type test booklets were already available for sight-impaired students.

Last month, the NAACP filed a federal complaint against Florida’s education department, seeking to stop use of the tests until the achievement gap between minority and white students is eliminated.

Florida’s minority students have scored well below white students in standardized tests, including the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

On the Net:

State accommodations for students with disabilities:

U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights:

AP-ES-09-06-03 1655EDT

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