Brendan Garrison has an A average and a full load of honors classes when school starts in August. He's not used to failing and he's never been in summer school.
Until this year, that is.
Garrison, an incoming sophomore at Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg, earned an A in his algebra class but failed the state's new high-stakes exam. Without a passing score, he can't earn a high school diploma and won't get credit for taking the class.
How far off was he? Two points.
"That's never really happened to me before," Garrison said. "I think I just had a bad test day."
For thousands of students like Garrison, this summer is crunch time. They have another chance Monday to pass the test. Failure means another year of algebra — on top of taking their next math class, most likely geometry. The next opportunity to retake the test is this winter.
Some parents think it's too heavy a burden, particularly for students who need extra help.
"Now you have to keep up with this new class, geometry, while you're trying to brush up on what you didn't get last year. For a struggling student, that seems almost impossible," said Brian Murray, whose daughter, an incoming sophomore at Osceola High, earned a C in algebra but failed the end-of-course exam.
Demeria Rembert, an incoming sophomore at Lakewood High, feels that pressure. She missed the mark by about 23 points. The idea of not passing a second time is tough, she said.
"That's already got you feeling down and you're thinking, 'If I don't pass this test, I won't graduate,' " she said.
Last year's ninth-graders were the first to face the new graduation requirement. Incoming ninth-graders must pass end-of-course exams in algebra, biology and geometry, in addition to passing the 10th grade reading FCAT. State officials say the rigorous exams will better prepare students for college and careers.
Statewide, more than 58,000 ninth-graders — or 52 percent of those who took it — failed the test. Seventh- and eighth-graders fared much better statewide, with 94 percent and 86 percent passing rates, respectively.
Across the Tampa Bay area, 7,579 ninth-graders failed, while about 2,410 seventh- and eighth-graders did. No seventh-graders who took the test failed in either Hernando or Pasco counties.
To help students pass, school districts are offering algebra boot camps this summer. The refresher courses typically are two to three weeks before the retake exam. School districts can offer retakes sometime between Monday and Aug. 10.
In Hillsborough County, the school district held summer camps at both middle and high schools. About 1,421 students showed up, or a little more than half of those who failed the test, said schools spokesman Steve Hegarty. Both morning and afternoon sessions were offered.
"We did not turn anyone away," he said.
The district also expects students to show up for the test Monday who haven't participated in the boot camps, either because of vacations or summer jobs.
In Pinellas County, the district made 650 spots available for camps at the high schools. Some schools had classes of 25, while others — those with greater need — opened 50 seats. Some schools also offered additional seats and let middle school students attend, said Melanie Marquez, a district spokeswoman.
Students who were closest to passing the exam were targeted for the summer camps, said Bill Lawrence, an associate superintendent in Pinellas. Other students might not benefit as much from such brief instruction, he said.
"It didn't seem like 12 days is enough for the really struggling students," he said.
At Lakewood High, students in the algebra boot camp received about four hours of instruction for nearly three weeks. Emily Thompson, one of the teachers, said they started with about 27 students, then dropped to 22.
The hard part, she said, is that students don't find out what they missed on the test. So, given the short amount of time, teachers focused on areas where most students tend to struggle.
It's hard to gauge how students will fare on the test, Thompson said.
"Are they going to show up in a good mood? Did they eat? Did they sleep?" she said.
Xavier Aguilar, 15, said he missed a passing score by "four or five questions." He said there were items on the test that weren't covered in his algebra class. He also said he's better at schoolwork and "things that don't have a lot of pressure."
Garrison, who missed a passing mark by two points, said he felt confident last time that he passed. This time, he's not making predictions. But he doesn't relish the idea of taking algebra — a class he earned an A in — and honors geometry at the same time.
"I really don't know what to feel," he said. "Obviously, I want to pass."
Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (727) 893-8846 or on Twitter @Fitz_ly.