TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — 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 Emergency 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 Emergency Order changes 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 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."
Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Grego explained the Emergency Order relieves the negative consequences of these assessments.
“Rather they're being looked at as a diagnostic tool: how can we assist students, how can we help families and parents, how can we determine where we need to grow our students for the rest of this school year, the summertime, and then also how can we spring board into the next school year," said Grego.
In addition, the order also gives 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. The order extends deadlines to earn qualifying test scores to December 1, 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.
READ EXECUTIVE ORDER:
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 to 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."
WATCH EDUCATION COMMISSIONER:
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.
"Why do we use this [COVID-19] catastrophe that we’ve been forced to deal with in terms of this pandemic to punish [students]?" Thurston told WPTV's Stephanie Susskind in an interview last month.
WATCH WPTV REPORT:
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.
That mandate has triggered much concern among parents, especially those like Palm Beach County parent Leah McIntyre, whose son has been doing remote learning from home since the start of the 2020-21 academic year.
"Extreme anxiety and panic that I would possibly have to send him in," McIntyre said. "I think his first experience going back to take a extremely high anxiety test for himself that's hard and difficult would not be the best way to reintroduce him back to school."
Florida Education Association (FEA) President Andrew Spar released this statement Friday in response to the Emergency Order:
“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.”
You can also see the full FSA testing schedule by clicking here.