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High school graduation rates dip across Tampa Bay, Florida

A return to testing requirements drives the first decrease since 2006.
Students attend during graduation ceremonies for the St. Petersburg High School senior class of 2021/2022 at Tropicana Field,  Friday, May 20, 2022 in St. Petersburg.
Students attend during graduation ceremonies for the St. Petersburg High School senior class of 2021/2022 at Tropicana Field, Friday, May 20, 2022 in St. Petersburg. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]
Published Jan. 13

Florida’s annual high school graduation rate decreased in 2022 for the first time in 16 years, as the state re-imposed testing requirements it had waived for two years during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Still, the levels of seniors earning a diploma hovered near 90%, as schools have taken advantage of several state-approved paths toward successful completion.

The statewide rate was 87.3%, down 2.8 percentage points from a year earlier, but also slightly higher than in 2019. That was the last time seniors had to pass the state’s 10th-grade English and Algebra 1 tests, or their equivalents, to graduate.

Related: Florida high school seniors get reprieve on graduation test scores

In the Tampa Bay area, Pasco County had the highest graduation rate, at 90.2%, down from 91%. Pinellas County experienced the largest drop of 3.9 points, to 88.1%. Hillsborough County logged in at 87.9%, down from 89.2%.

The rates were released Friday.

Over the past two years, as the graduation rates rose, state and district officials cheered the historic high levels that students had reached despite the difficulties caused by quarantines, distance learning and other hurdles of the pandemic. Critics scoffed at the time, pointing to the waived testing mandates that some said allowed perhaps as many as 7% of seniors to graduate who otherwise might not have.

Some suggested the state should not bring the testing back in to the equation, but Department of Education leaders insisted that the exams serve as accountability measures. Now that they’re back in play, the percentage of graduates declined.

Related: Florida touts rising graduation rates, but coronavirus colors the numbers

Still, Florida education commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. saw a bright side to the outcome: All subgroups of students improved on their performance from the last time the tests counted.

He said the state’s decision to reopen schools faster than any other was a key factor. Gov. Ron DeSantis, who initially called for schools to close at the outset of the pandemic, required districts to provide in-person classes by August 2020, and has touted the decision as one of his leadership successes.

“While many around the nation were lowering expectations and keeping at-risk students at a distance from their teachers and needed educational supports, Florida was empowering parents to make this decision and moreover Florida’s teachers stepped up to the plate and delivered for students who had learning gaps to overcome,” Diaz said in a news release.

Schools continued to offer credit recovery courses, in which students take computerized courses in a lab until they pass classes they previously failed. The state also delayed implementation of higher passing scores for alternate exams that students may use in place of the state English and math tests.

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Graduation rates have gotten increased attention since the state started using them as a part of its school grading system.

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