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TALLAHASSEE — Florida is scrapping state testing requirements for its K-12 schools, the cornerstone of the state’s schools accountability system, because of growing concerns over the coronavirus, said Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday. School grades are also being waived.
The state is extending the time students aren’t on campus, at least until April 15.
Students in the majority of school districts will start distance learning through online school or paper assignments delivered home on March 30. Most students are currently on an extended spring break that was announced last week.
However, four districts — Duval, Collier, Union and Sumter — started their spring breaks earlier and will start distance learning on March 23. Those districts are already experimenting with having school bus drivers deliver paper assignments to some of the students younger than 6th grade who may not be able to learn electronically as well as some of the older students, said Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran at Tuesday evening’s announcement.
Some districts, including Miami-Dade, already opted to start distance learning this week.
Graduation requirements are also going to be re-evaluated to make up for testing that didn’t take place.
Tests for teachers will also be relaxed. For the next 120 days, exam fees for teacher certification-related tests will be waived, and deadlines for those tests will be extended.
After April 15, the state will re-evaluate to see whether K-12 schools can start letting kids back on campus, Corcoran said. But he stressed that students are expected to still get a full year’s worth of learning, through teachers and districts that are being flexible to deal with the coronavirus.
“We’re in unprecedented times,” Corcoran said at the state’s emergency operations center. “We have the greatest teachers, the greatest superintendents ... and we will deliver.”
For the state’s 4-year-olds in prekindergarten programs, they are being advised to continue to go to school in person, Corcoran said. That’s because they have smaller class sizes that are closer to the federal recommendations to avoid gathering of more than 10 people.
Meanwhile, all colleges and universities, including private institutions, are being directed to finish out their semesters online, and “be prepared to extend their educational calendars through June 30," according to the Department of Education.
School boards are also being encouraged to not hold future meetings, Corcoran said, and low-performing schools in “turnaround” programs will be frozen in their status from last year.
“Hallelujah,” Pinellas School Board member Rene Flowers exclaimed in response to the news.
She had thought the state might delay testing, but cancellation is even better, she said. DeSantis made the “best call” he could, taking stress off teachers, parents and students who are already grappling with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, Flowers added.
Without state testing as a measure, parents who are unsure whether their child should move to the next grade should contact the child’s principal, Flowers said.
While these are major changes to the way Florida students receive their education, DeSantis emphasized Tuesday that the funding for K-12 programs will not be reduced. That means, for example, districts can use funding intended for student mental health services to offer counseling sessions virtually for students in need of emotional support.
The news about state testing also pleased Damaris Allen, a parent of two high school students and president of the Hillsborough County PTA/PTSA Council, who said students’ performance on tests would be in question after all the time outside the classroom.
"We should always put the education and health and well-being of our students first.”
The news of more days of online learning reached students, too.
Ethan Huggins, a senior at Steinbrenner High School in northwest Hillsborough County, said he understood the health concerns, but is wondering how the quality will compare — a question that will likely continue to arise in the coming days.
“I’m definitely worried about the amount of schooling I’m getting,” Huggins said. “I feel like I’d get more education with a teacher, as opposed to sitting at home on a computer.”
Times staff writers Jeffrey S. Solochek, Marlene Sokol and Megan Reeves contributed to this story.
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