Florida high school seniors who haven’t yet passed their required graduation tests in language arts and math won’t have to meet the higher bar that was supposed to take effect this spring.
The changes, approved by the State Board of Education on Wednesday, should help hundreds of Tampa Bay area teens earn a diploma this year.
The board left intact lower scores students may achieve on alternate exams, such as the SAT and ACT, delaying implementation of higher scores it adopted in 2018. The change is effective for one year.
The board also allowed students to continue using the Postsecondary Education Readiness Test as an alternate to the required Algebra I test for another year. Known as the PERT, the test is typically used to help students take college courses that best align with their skills.
Officials recommended removing the PERT four years ago because, they said, it did not align with state graduation standards. They offered the PSAT as a substitution.
The tougher requirements were slated to take effect this year for the students who entered high school after the changes were adopted in 2018. Deputy education commissioner Juan Copa said complications associated with the coronavirus pandemic justified postponing implementation.
The changes are “consistent with the compassion and grace that has been extended to Florida students for the past two years,” Copa told board members.
Copa said the board did not have the authority to call off the testing, as it did in 2020, because the state no longer is under an emergency health order. Under normal circumstances, state law governs student testing. However, he said, the board controls the test passing scores and so it was free to amend its own rules.
School district officials, who have called for leniency in the state accountability system, applauded Wednesday’s decision.
“It is absolutely what I was asking for,” said Hillsborough County school superintendent Addison Davis, who sent a letter to the Department of Education in January describing problems students and teachers faced preparing for testing this year.
He noted that this year’s seniors did not have the chance to take their 10th grade exit language arts state test in 2020 because the tests were canceled. The state did not waive the requirement, though, leaving the teens to sit for the retake version of the Florida Standards Assessment, or try to fit in an alternate test such as the SAT or ACT.
The waves of the delta and omicron variants of COVID-19 created havoc for the schools, Davis said, because so many students and teachers have been absent.
Leaving the expectations unchanged for another year will help many students make it to graduation during this tough time, he said. The board’s action qualified 1,000 Hillsborough students for a diploma, he said.
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In Pinellas County schools, the decision immediately affected about 230 seniors who now meet all graduation requirements, said associate superintendent Kevin Hendrick.
“They automatically now are qualified,” Hendrick said.
It could help an estimated 230 additional seniors who need to meet credit and grade point requirements, but now have the test score in hand, he added.
“This is the right thing to do for students,” Hendrick said.
Pasco County officials also had asked the state to consider this change. About 29 percent of district seniors have yet to pass the language arts requirement, said Peggy Jones, the district’s accountability and assessment director.
“This gives those students an additional opportunity,” Jones said. “This was a big one for us.”
Davis said he hopes the state might take steps to soften other consequences that schools face from testing results. Last year, for instance, the state made school grading optional, and Davis said that could be helpful again.
Using data to help districts improve their instruction is one thing, he said. Given the set of circumstances stemming from the pandemic, he suggested, more punitive actions could be relaxed.
“The ability to hold us harmless stands in their hands,” Davis said.
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