Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart has flatly rejected six lawmakers' suggestion that three school districts — and perhaps more — played fast and loose with which students took the state civics exam as a way to game the school grading system.
"At this time, we do not have any evidence that the districts you listed have done anything that is in violation of the law or improperly manipulated the accountability system," Stewart wrote to the lawmakers on Tuesday.
In fact, Stewart continued, the idea that some districts delayed having students take the required course and test until they are better prepared could be considered a wise move.
"Data we have from other districts indicates that in some cases, delaying the year [the] civics course is taken in middle school can result in more students passing the exam and, thus, can be an educationally sound decision," she wrote, noting that some other districts had taken a similar step in past years.
Those included Osceola, Bradford and Sarasota.
The lawmakers called for a review of the practice after reading a complaint by the conservative Florida Coalition of School Board Members, which accused Polk, Manatee and Duval counties of gaming the system. The lawmakers used incendiary language, without proof, to suggest that even more school districts might be using the "same shameful practices."
Stewart noted that the state mandates the civics course and test, but does not say at what grade level schools must offer it. She said she expected the number of test-takers to rise in future years, as students who didn't take it in 2018 as seventh graders will have to take in in 2019 to meet the requirement.