How many Florida seniors are stalled by graduation exams?

Teens must pass the state Algebra I and 10th-grade language arts tests to earn a diploma.
Students study for Advanced Placement exams [Times | 2013]
Students study for Advanced Placement exams [Times | 2013]
Published May 31, 2019|Updated May 31, 2019

High school seniors across Florida are donning their caps and gowns to collect their hard-earned diplomas, as the 2018-19 school year winds to a close.

To get there, they must have completed 24 credits (unless opting for an 18-credit alternative), kept a grade-point average of at least 2.0, and passed the state’s Algebra I and tenth-grade language arts exams.

Those gatekeeper tests once again have prevented thousands of teens from crossing the stage.

Statewide, 2,969 seniors — that’s 1.4 percent of the Class of 2019 — sat for the Algebra I assessment in the spring, the final retake before graduation. Just 7 percent passed, leaving about 2,700 having failed to meet the requirement.

Just eight districts had more than 100 students taking the test. Of those, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade and Broward counties had the highest passing rate, at 7 percent.

The numbers were larger for those retaking the language arts test. Nearly 8 percent of the state’s 206,973 seniors — 16,112 in all — took that exam, with just 8 percent earning a passing score.

Miami-Dade County had the most test retakers, with 3,146, while Broward County was second with 2,039. In the Tampa Bay area, Hillsborough County had 925, Pinellas 281, Pasco 327 and Hernando 101. Among those, Pasco had the highest passing rate, at 10 percent.

High schoolers can take the exams until they pass. They also can take alternate tests, such as the SAT and ACT, and substitute those results if they meet a set level adopted by the state. The Florida Board of Education revamped those “concordant” scores in 2018.

Critics have panned the idea of exit exams, saying they might unfairly hurt students who otherwise have met all the demands of 13 years of education. State officials have not budged in their support of the two tests.

The only other public school students facing tests with similar high stakes are third-graders, who must earn a Level 2 or higher on their state reading exam in order to progress to fourth grade. Third graders can take an alternate test or submit a performance portfolio as other paths to promotion.

In past years, the state has released third- and 12th-grade testing outcomes at the same time. This year, it did not do so.

The third-grade results were posted on May 24.