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 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.
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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."
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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."
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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.
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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."
The Florida Education Association released a statement about the FSA developments, saying that while the executive order benefits students, "teachers did not get the same kind of consideration."
"Test scores still will be allowed to impose very real costs on [teachers] through their evaluations," the FEA said. "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."
FEA released the following statement moments ago in response to Florida Department of Education Order 2021-EO-02, regarding mandated standardized testing. pic.twitter.com/KWnJnmFagw— Florida Education Association (@FloridaEA) April 9, 2021
You can also see the full FSA testing schedule by clicking here.