The Florida Department of Education issued an emergency order Friday that will allow high school seniors to graduate without taking a required state exam — a move in response to challenges brought on by the pandemic.
The order authorizes school districts to waive the mandatory state assessment for graduating seniors. Instead, districts can determine on a case-by-case basis that a student’s record establishes a comparable level of achievement, under the order.
“Over the past year and beyond, Florida has led on prioritizing the education and wellbeing of our state’s students,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis in a statement. “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 order builds on previous FDOE orders that required the reopening of the state’s public schools, and that expanded the statewide testing windows to ensure that every student could complete state assessments.
“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,” Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran said in a statement.
The order will also allow districts to base middle school learning gains and acceleration for school grades on two school years, rather than one, due to the cancellation of tests in Spring 2020.
“This is the ultimate flexibility and reinforces the compassion and grace we have used throughout this pandemic in making these decisions,” Corcoran said. 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.”
School districts will also be able to determine a third grader’s promotion to fourth grade based on final course grades and the student’s performance for instances when a student does not have a score from a state end-of-course exam.
Under the order, decisions about student retention, or holding a student back, can only be decided by a school principal at the local level. The principal must review the student’s academic record, receive input from the parents, the student, their teachers and school leaders.
The order will also provide more leeway to high school students applying for certain college scholarship programs. Specifically, it extends deadlines to earn qualifying test scores for tests like the ACT, SAT and PERT to Dec. 1, and also forgives volunteer hour requirements for students, who, through no fault of their own had a lack of access to volunteer opportunities.
Schools’ “improvement ratings” related to their grades will also remain in their pre-pandemic designations.
In addition to the order, the FDOE submitted a request for a waiver from federal requirements from ongoing challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The waiver was submitted following invitation from U.S. Department of Education (USED) encouraging states to request waivers of certain provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.
If approved, Florida would not be required to implement and report the results of the state’s accountability system.
On March 17, the FDOE posted a draft of its waiver and accepted public comment through the end of March. During that time, it received 777 emails and 11 letters of support.
The State Board of Education also expressed support for the waiver, along with the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.
“This waiver application, as well as this Emergency Order, puts the interests of Florida students, educators and schools first and foremost,” said Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Michael Grego in a statement. “Thank you to Governor DeSantis and Commissioner Corcoran and the Department of Education for the ongoing collaboration and seeking the advice and guidance from our state’s superintendents.”
Florida would still be required to continue to support previously identified schools in the 2021-2022 school year and resume school identification in the fall of 2022,
The waiver application does not exempt Florida from state accountability requirements. The results of state assessments, according to the FDOE, “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.”