Florida lawmakers and school leaders make a big deal about the state's rising graduation rates, citing the importance of earning a diploma to finding success in college and career.
Yet despite the climbing percentages, many students cannot pass the state's required tests in reading or math. Some turn to alternate exams, some to adult education. Some walk away.
For more than five years, legislators have discussed what they call "alternative pathways" to graduation. These would create substitute courses, different testing options and other methods to arrive at a diploma and cross the stage.
"It's still a big goal of mine," said Rep. Ralph Massullo, a Lecanto Republican who this year chairs the House PreK-12 Innovation committee.
Massullo carried a couple of bills in 2018 aimed at creating various paths to high school completion.
"We are going the best we can to have alternative types of curriculum for those individuals who may have a predilection to the trades," he said. "One size doesn't fit all."
Massullo stressed that any legislation he supports would not dilute the expectations to qualify for a diploma. However, he said, he would like to see more practical courses that embed the requirements in a more approachable and understandable way, for instance.
He also said he would like to see "equivalent, alternative types of assessments," and a financial literacy requirement to help students prepare for real-world money situations.
Other states have taken such steps, he said. "I think Florida can be a leader in something equally innovative."
Already, lawmakers have submitted a handful of bills aimed at boosting graduation rates in some form or fashion. Among them:
– SB 244 by Sen. Travis Hutson would require every high school to have at least one academic advisor to advise students with a grade-point average below 2.0 about " alternative career pathways, graduation pathways, available industry certifications, available apprenticeship preparation, and available technical training."
– HB 185 by Rep. Susan Valdes would allow students to earn a diploma without passing all required tests, if they meet other criteria such as a 2.5 cumulative grade-point average instead of 2.0, or earning an industry certification.
– SB 226 by Sen. Jeff Brandes would allow middle and high schools that adopt a "mastery based" academic program to adopt alternate methods to assign letter grades and course credits.