Florida high school students got some unexpected relief Monday as they headed into the state's annual spring testing season.
Those who struggle on certain gatekeeper exams won't have to race to complete substitute ones before the State Board of Education imposes new rules.
Amid rising complaints from educators and families, the Department of Education staff altered its recommendation on the tests that students may use to replace their Algebra I and 10th-grade language arts exams, both of which are graduation requirements. Under the new proposal, released Monday, the changes would not affect current high schoolers. (The old versions are now gone from the department website.)
If approved, they would matter only for teens who enter ninth grade in 2018-19 or later.
Department officials did not say why the alterations were made.
Speculation among some education activists was that Gov. Rick Scott, who is running for U.S. Senate, directed the move to avoid angering thousands of parents whose children would have faced the shifting standard. Department spokeswoman Audrey Walden said via email the alterations were part of the normal rule making process.
"The changes to Rule 6A-1.09422 are being proposed in response to public input received since the March 20, 2018 State Board Rule workshop," Walden wrote. "If approved, the rule would become effective in mid-June. The public may continue to offer input until May 16th."
The pending rule change would eliminate the Postsecondary Education Readiness Test (PERT) as an alternate for students who fail the state Algebra I end-of-course exam. It also would increase the substitute ACT and SAT language arts score students must earn to replace the 10th-grade Florida Standards Assessment.
It had been slated to take effect in August, for any student who had not yet passed the state tests or earned the existing replacement score.
That targeted implementation date was long delayed from the state's initial intention. The State Board had been scheduled to take up the item in July 2017, but yanked it from the agenda as superintendents and others loudly raised objections.
Though technical in nature, the issue of concordant scores has long played a role in Florida teens' lives, as the state has required passage of certain tests to earn a high school diploma. Officials have stressed that the state tests are not the only path to graduation, and noted that students have options such as the substitute tests.
The changing scores, though, long have caused angst. The current proposal is only the latest one.
Note: This post has been updated to reflect new information from the Florida Department of Education.