Florida's long-anticipated changes to the tests that students can substitute for state Algebra I and language arts exams could be in place as soon as Aug. 1.
Teens no longer would be allowed to use their Postsecondary Education Readiness Test, or PERT, score in place of their Algebra I end-of-course exam. Instead, they could submit SAT or ACT math results if they fail the state assessment.
And the ACT and SAT passing "concordant" scores for 10th-grade reading, also a graduation requirement, would increase with students taking different sections of those tests than in the past. (See the Department of Education public hearing presentation for all the details.)
The news that the proposed rule revision is scheduled to come before the Florida Board of Education in May, after having been delayed for nearly a year, has sent parent groups and educators into high gear as they try to get their students past the tests ahead of the tougher standards.
"There are a lot of kids who count on that being a last-minute save for a diploma, and those kids, they don't know this is going on," said Cindy Hamilton, co-founder of the Florida Opt-Out Network.
In spring 2017, the passing rate on the Algebra I exam was 21 percent among 10th graders, 35 percent among 11th graders and 37 percent among 12th graders.
As the exams approach, two Pasco County schools have asked for permission to start new PERT, SAT and Algebra 1 preparation boot camps. Others have already begun similar initiatives.
"They really rely heavily on PERT for Algebra 1 and SAT and ACT for reading," assistant superintendent Tammy Berryhill said.
The district, like most others, has kept a close eye on the advancement of the substitute test proposal, and is doing what it can to help students meet their requirements, she said. Before submitting an alternate score, a student must have taken and failed the state exam.
Once the new rules take effect, the old scores no longer can be used. (See the state FAQ for added information.)
"We have been trying to test our 10th and 11th graders in PERT before the change," Berryhill said. "Many of our senior classes are down into single digits in [not passing] algebra, thanks to PERT."
She said the proposed math replacement scores appear to be manageable. But she worried about the "financial divide" that might make it more difficult for some students to take the substitute exams.
The SAT and ACT do offer some fee waivers for their exams, which cost about $50 per sitting. But the PERT costs only $5, Berryhill said, making it more accessible to students with fewer resources.
The proposed reading replacement scores are higher than in the past, even above the 10th grade benchmark score that the College Board uses. The department explained that it is using what it calls "equipercentile linking" to set its passing score.
The department has used that model in the past when determining cut scores for other tests, such as the Florida Standards Assessment. What it means is that the state establishes its score levels based on percentages of students at each level in the past.
In 2017, 25 percent of 10th graders scored at Level 1 on the language arts FSA.
Students who want to take the substitute tests have a couple more opportunities before the Aug. 1 deadline, which has not yet been formally approved.
The ACT is being offered June 9 and July 14, and the SAT on May 5 and June 2.
"We want kids to know their last chance is not gone," Hamilton said.