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Pasco officials question new Florida Virtual School rule on final exams

A small change to the Florida Virtual School's grading policies has irked Pasco County school officials, who hold the second-largest district-run FLVS franchise in the state.

Florida Virtual students no longer must pass their final exams to earn course credits. Instead, they simply have to take the test, which will count for 20 percent of their grade, and have their work overall comprise a passing score.

"I'm pretty miffed about it," Pasco superintendent Kurt Browning said of the new rule, which took effect in July. "It seems like they are going in the opposite direction of where the Legislature would want them to go."

He argued that the state is asking students to do more in school, while Florida Virtual is easing its requirements.

Competition also factors in. If students perceive FLVS courses as easier to pass, they might not enroll in Pasco eSchool in such great numbers.

Florida Virtual enrollment plummeted last year as districts kept more online students local. That effort came after the Legislature changed its funding model so districts lost money when students took FLVS courses.

FLVS spokeswoman Tania Clow said the grading decision had nothing to do with luring students back.

Rather, she said, it aimed to create consistency between the virtual school and most districts, which also count final exams only as a percentage of a student's total grade.

"As a student-centered organization, we did not want students to have conflicting policies across districts," Clow said.

Not all Pasco County traditional schools, for instance, require final exam passage to earn course credits.

In Pasco, any class not associated with a state end-of-course exam counts its local final as 10 percent of the grade. Midyear assessments for honors courses count 15 percent. State-mandated exams count 30 percent, and passage is required for Algebra I only.

Lawmakers recently decided not to mandate that students pass other state EOC's, such as in geometry and U.S. history, saying the stakes attached to a single test would have been too high.

Passing would be required only for students seeking added recognition beyond the standard diploma.

Florida Virtual seeks only to align with the trend, Clow said.

"If a student does fail the final exam, the student is encouraged to remediate and retake the exam," she said.

That procedure alleviated worries for Hillsborough County's virtual school officials. The new rule gives teachers more ability to determine whether a student deserves to pass based on what they have seen during the year, rather than relying on one test score, district spokeswoman Tanya Arja said.

"They do not have a concern," Arja said.

Pasco eSchool principal JoAnne Glenn agreed with the idea of giving teachers that level of professional freedom. She continued to have reservations about the FLVS policy, though.

For one thing, Glenn observed, Pasco schools entered their franchise agreement with FLVS with the requirement that students pass their finals. The district had no input before the change was implemented.

She added that some Pasco School Board members have pointedly suggested that students can easily cheat when taking classes online.

This new rule challenges schools to maintain integrity and ensure students have mastered their material, Glenn said.

"What does it say if a student makes it to the finish line and can't pass the final?" she said.

Pasco eSchool plans to work through how it will monitor student content mastery outside the final exams during the coming months. It has no plan to drop its affiliation with Florida Virtual.

That won't stop Browning from raising the red flag, though.

"If we're going to be required to hold our kids to a higher standard," he said, "then they need to be required to keep their standards high."

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at jsolochek@tampabay.com or (813) 909-4614. Follow @jeffsolochek.

Pasco officials question new Florida Virtual School rule on final exams 08/03/14 [Last modified: Monday, August 4, 2014 4:30pm]
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