Florida districts upset about sudden change in graduation policy
School district officials around Tampa Bay are among others statewide who are voicing concerns about a sudden shift in Florida graduation policy that could put some students at greater risk of dropping out.
The change, announced by the Department of Education in a late Friday memo, will doom hundreds of Tampa Bay students who were in alternative programs that promised them a shot at a standard diploma, the officials said.
“They’ve ripped the hope out of these kids,” Dee Burns, who oversees dropout prevention in Pinellas, told the Gradebook. “They deserve to have adults keeping our word to them.”
At issue is the “GED exit option,” which has allowed several thousand high school students to graduate with standard diplomas each year even though they do not have enough credits or a high enough grade point average. Under the option, they could still earn a standard diploma if: 1) they passed the GED and the FCAT exit exam; or 2) they passed the GED and earned a high enough score on either the SAT or ACT college entrance exams.
Even if the DOE had good reasons to kill the option – critics have long accused the state of using it to pad graduation rates - it should have offered a future shut-down date so students currently working towards the option could finish, Burns said. About 300 Pinellas students will be affected in the coming year, she said.
“They’re not going to be okay,” Burns said of many of those students. “Some kids are never going to stick around long enough” to recover all the credits they need to graduate.
In Hillsborough, the GED exit option is incorporated into a two-year program that includes other requirements. “We have some kids who are halfway through,” said district lobbyist Connie Milito. “What are we going to do for those kids … and not mess them up?”
Some superintendents and the Central Florida Public School Boards Coalition have also raised concerns, Milito said.
DOE officials said they had no choice. The Friday memo said “it has come to our attention that there is no statutory authority” for the GED exit option.
Ron Matus, state education reporter