TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — In a major victory for children and parents during the unprecedented and challenging COVID-19 pandemic, the scores of the Florida Standards Assessments, or FSA exams, will not be tied to student promotion and high school graduation this school year, state officials announced on Friday.
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued an executive order which eases two of the most critical and stressful requirements of the FSA exams.
Traditionally, the scores of the tests, which are currently being administered to students throughout the state, have determined whether high school students can graduate and if third graders can advance to fourth grade.
However, Corcoran's executive order changes all that.
Under the new measure, for students expected to graduate in the Spring 2021 semester, "a school district is authorized to waive the required state assessments for graduation if the district determines on a case-by-case basis that the student's high school record establishes a comparable level of achievement."
The decision over whether a student will graduate will be determined by the school's principal, a "careful review of the student's academic record," and input from the student, his or her parents, and teachers.
In addition, third-grade promotion won't be tied to the results of the FSA exams this school year.
According to the executive order, "a student may be promoted to grade four, regardless of the absence of an English Language Arts (ELA) assessment score or the absence of a Level 2 or higher ELA score, if the district is able to determine that a student is performing at least at Level 2 on the ELA assessment through the good cause exemption process... or other means reasonably calculated to provide reliable evidence of a student's performance."
During a news conference in Melbourne last month, Corcoran hinted that the FSA scores may not ultimately be tied to student and school performance.
Corcoran said that, regardless of whether the scores end up counting or not, all students who are able should take the FSA exams.
"All sides say you want that accountability," Corcoran said. "We gotta go out there and get the measurement. When we get the measurement, then we can sit back, look at that data and make the decisions that are best for children."
Due to growing fears among parents, State Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Broward County, filed a bill in January that would prohibit this year's test scores from being used to hold students back or keep them from graduating.
The Florida Department of Education has extended the FSA testing window by two weeks to give school districts more flexibility to administer the exams.
Currently, the state is requiring students to take the tests in person, including those who have been in distance learning all school year.
Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar released this statement Friday in response to Florida Department of Education (FDOE) Order 2021-EO-02, regarding mandated standardized testing:
“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. 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.”
FDOE Emergency Order 2021-EO-02 provides the following:
- Districts and schools can opt-in, at their discretion, on a case-by-case basis, to school grades or improvement ratings for each individual school.
- Calculation of learning gains and middle school acceleration for school grades will be based on growth of two school years, rather than one, due to the cancellation of tests in Spring 2020.
- For districts and schools not opting in, school grades and school improvement ratings would not be automatically calculated and released for the 2020-2021 school year.
- Allows districts and schools flexibility to determine on a case-by-case basis if a senior’s high school record demonstrates a comparable level of achievement to state assessments.
- Allows districts and schools local discretion to determine promotion and course grade decisions, including courses that require end-of-course (EOC) exams.
- Provides two types of compassion and grace to high school seniors who are on track, but have yet to earn a Bright Futures Florida Academic Scholars, Florida Medallion Scholars, Florida Gold Seal Vocational Scholars or Florida Gold Seal CAPE Scholars award:
- Extends deadlines to earn qualifying test scores to December 1, 2021 (ACT, SAT and PERT for Florida Gold Seal Vocational Scholars); and
- Forgives volunteer hour requirements for students who intended to complete the service hours prior to graduation, but through no fault of their own had a lack of access to volunteer opportunities.
- Allows local districts to make decisions regarding the optional use of VAM data as part of the “performance of students” component in a teacher’s evaluation.
- Provides permission for early learning coalitions to use unspent funds, which would otherwise normally exceed the statutory thresholds allowed for non-direct services, to be utilized as long as these funds are used to provide direct supports to early learning childcare providers.
- Allows VPK providers, especially school districts with shortened summer periods, to provide no less than 200 hours of summer VPK, suspending the law requiring 300 hours.
In addition, FDOE submitted its request for a waiver from federal requirements resulting from ongoing challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic on Friday.
On February 22, the United States Department of Education (USED) invited states to request waivers of certain provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act, for the 2020-2021 school year.
iIf approved, Florida would not be required to:
- Implement and report the results of the state’s accountability system;
- Calculate progress toward long-term goals and measurements of interim progress or indicators;
- Meaningfully differentiate among public schools using data from the 2020-2021 school year;
- Account for an assessment participation rate below 95 percent; and
- Identify schools for comprehensive support and improvement, targeted support and improvement, and additional targeted support and improvement based on data from the 2020-2021 school year.
Florida would still be required to:
- Continue to support previously identified schools in the 2021-2022 school year;
- Resume school identification in the fall of 2022; and
- Publically report the percentage of students, by subgroup, not assessed and the percentage chronically absent.
The waiver application does not exempt Florida from state accountability requirements. The results of state assessments are crucial to help identify students who need specialized supports, help teachers tailor their instructional delivery to support individual student needs, and ensure equity in opportunity and closing achievement gaps for millions of Florida’s at-risk students.
For more information or to see the full FSA testing schedule by click here.
This story was originally published by Matt Papaycik at WPTV.