Hey, high school juniors. Don’t forget Florida’s language arts test.

The state hasn’t waived that graduation requirement.
The screen students see when they log in to take the Florida Standards Assessments. [Pasco County School District]
The screen students see when they log in to take the Florida Standards Assessments. [Pasco County School District]
Published Sep. 11, 2020

Florida high school students didn’t have to sit for state exams last spring, the Department of Education having canceled the tests amid the coronavirus pandemic that sent everyone home to finish the academic year.

That didn’t mean the teens were off the hook for the assessments. While graduating seniors received waivers allowing them to move on without passing scores, younger students did not get the same treatment.

They still had additional time to meet the language arts and math graduation requirements, which remained intact.

Their first chance to meet the mandate arrives on Monday, when the testing window opens for makeup exams in algebra, biology, U.S. history, civics, geometry and language arts. The state gave districts a longer time frame to provide these retakes — through Dec. 18 instead of Oct. 2 — but many schools are scheduling them early, even as they are conducting other assessments to determine whether students fell behind during spring remote learning and summer break.

“School-wide FSA testing begins on September 14th,” Hillsborough County’s Middleton High School told students and families this week. “We will begin with administration of the Writing and Reading FSA during the week of September 14th through September 18th. Starting September 21st, we will begin Algebra FSA testing.”

Perhaps the biggest deal is the language arts test. Last year’s entire sophomore class, now juniors, never had the opportunity to take it, and they still must pass it.

“Currently there are no plans to waive the FSA ELA requirement for last year’s tenth graders,” department spokeswoman Cheryl Etters said.

That means they can’t escape the rule stating that, to earn a diploma, they must pass the test or earn an equivalent score on an alternate state-approved exam, such as the SAT or ACT.

The algebra graduation requirement is a bit less onerous, as the state decided to let students substitute a passing geometry end-of-course exam score. Most high school students take geometry after algebra.

The very notion that students might be facing state exams at this point in an unusual school year has met some criticism. One teacher from Port St. Lucie sent a blistering email to commissioner Richard Corcoran, and urged others to follow suit.

Testing at this time amounts to “cruel and unusual punishment," Karen Maxwell wrote, given that students largely have not received a “proper in-person, brick and mortar education” for several months, and many faced significant personal stress during the time away.

She also noted that students who opted to remain in remote schooling because of health concerns would be required to come to schools for their testing, which contradicts their efforts to stay away from the campuses.

“If the argument to be made is that these tests are graduation requirements, then it is not a valid argument. Because testing these students at this time will NOT produce valid results,” Maxwell wrote in her email, which she also shared on Facebook.

Etters said that, although the test remains a requirement, students are not expected to take the retakes this fall.

“They may take the Fall FSA ELA retake, or a later retake, and they may continue to retake the assessment each time it is administered until meeting the requirement,” she said.