Florida Education Dept. lays out path to graduation without state testing amid pandemic

Education

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FLORIDA (WFLA) – The Florida Department of Education laid out their plans on Friday for public schools in the state to reopen safely and mapped out how students set to graduate will move forward, even if they haven’t taken standardized tests.

“Over the past year and beyond, Florida has led on prioritizing the education and wellbeing of our state’s students,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “This emergency order will empower students, families and teachers with data on students’ progress and growth and provide them with the necessary tools to create the best educational experience for each individual.” 

The education department released an executive order, DOE 2021-EO-02, Friday afternoon. So let’s look at the big takeaways for student graduations and promotions.

High school seniors expecting to graduate Spring 2021 may be authorized by their school district to have their state assessments waived on a case-by-case basis, so long as the school record of the student shows that they have “a comparable level of achievement.” The comparable level of achievement is determined based on state statute 1003.4285 and the scoring system to determine this can be found on the department’s website.

In layman’s terms, students must show a level of achievement equal to Level 3 or higher, showing they are above satisfactory achievement and thus able to graduate with a waiver for graduation due to the lack of standardized testing.

Students who test at Level 2 “demonstrate a below satisfactory level of success with the challenging content of the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards.”

For third-grade students waiting on standardized testing for promotion to fourth grade, school districts and charter school boards are allowed to determine promotion based on final course grades and the student’s performance in the course where a student does not have a score from a state End Of Course exam.

This only applies to students who successfully completed the 2020-2021 school year.

The executive order lays out certain guidelines about how students are promoted to the next grade or retained, meaning they are held back rather than moving on to fourth grade from third.

School decisions about holding a student back or “repeating a grade solely for academic reasons” can only be decided by a school principal at the local level, according to the executive order. The principal must review the student’s academic record, receive input from the parents, the student, their teachers and school leaders.

During the review process, “only academic performance in a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) can be considered” when discussing the potential for a student repeating a grade.

A student will still have the opportunity to move forward to fourth grade from third grade, even without an assessment score of Level 2 or higher on their English Language Arts assessment, if the school district is able to determine that the student is performing at least at Level 2 or higher, through the good cause exemption process described in Fla. Statute 1008.25.

That exemption is:

“The district school board may only exempt students from mandatory retention, as provided in paragraph (5)(b), for good cause. A student who is promoted to grade 4 with a good cause exemption shall be provided intensive reading instruction and intervention that include specialized diagnostic information and specific reading strategies to meet the needs of each student so promoted. The school district shall assist schools and teachers with the implementation of explicit, systematic, and multisensory reading instruction and intervention strategies for students promoted with a good cause exemption which research has shown to be successful in improving reading among students who have reading difficulties.”

Florida Statue 1008.25: Public school student progression; student support; reporting requirements.

Basically, the student can get a “good cause exemption” under narrow circumstances. Those circumstances are:

  • Limited English proficiency as a result of having had less than two years of instruction in an English for Speakers of Other Languages program, based on when they entered a school in the U.S. – so an exemption for non-native English speakers.
  • Students have a disability and their IEP indicates that participation in state exams is not appropriate, consistent with statute 1008.212, where they have a disability, condition or impairment affecting “sensory, manual, or speaking skills.”
  • Students who demonstrate a level of performance in an alternative standardized test for reading or English Language Arts (ELA) that is approved by the State Board of Education.
  • The student can demonstrate through a student portfolio that they are performing at least at a Level 2 on statewide standardized ELA assessment.
  • Students with disabilities who take the statewide, standardized ELA assessment and have an IEP that shows they’ve received intensive instruction for more than two years but still has a demonstrated deficiency and was previously retained in first through third grade.
  • Students who received intensive reading intervention for two or more years but still have a deficiency and were retained for a total of two years in Grade 1, 2, or 3. (The statute notes that students may not be retained more than once in Grade 3).

The executive order also provides extra support for struggling students, who faced additional challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The new order lifts a heavy burden from our students. It’s only right that they should be exempt from dire consequences when they take standardized tests this spring. This has not been a normal school year, and a test should not cost kids the chance to graduate or be promoted,” Florida Education Association (FEA) President Andrew Spar. “However, teachers did not get the same kind of consideration. Test scores still will be allowed to impose very real costs on them through their evaluations. The educators who have served Florida’s students throughout the pandemic also deserve to be shown some grace. They have faced unprecedented challenges this school year.”

Students at risk of retention must be given extra support by the school district or charter school that aligns with interventions required by 2020-EO-07.

So schools must give students a way to progress and close achievement gaps that may have been “exacerbated during the pandemic.” The schools must provide targeted outreach for students demonstrating a decline in progress in reading and mathematics by grade level and learning modalities, or how a student learns or memorizes information.

Testing deadlines were also extended for the 2020-2021 academic year and the least required minimum SAT and ACT scores as specified for each Bright Futures Scholarship award level must be earned by Dec. 1, 2021.

“Similar to last year, this Emergency Order protects our high school seniors and empowers local school districts and schools to make the important decisions on graduation, promotion and whether to opt-in to school grades and improvement ratings,” said Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran. “This is the ultimate flexibility and reinforces the compassion and grace we have used throughout this pandemic in making these decisions. I also want to thank our courageous and dedicated educators and school leaders who have made this school year so successful for our students and local communities.”

The order also:

  • Allows local school districts to decide if and how they’ll use VAM data for student test scores as part of a teacher’s evaluation.
  • Gives permission for early learning coalitions to use money that wasn’t spent on non-direct services as long as they are used to support early learning childcare providers.
  • Allows Voluntary Pre-kindergarten providers to give no less than 200 hours of summer VPK, suspending the current law that requires 300 hours.

Read the full executive order:

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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