New order allows Florida high school seniors, 3rd graders to graduate without passing state exams

Grade promotion, graduation will be decided on case-by-case basis

ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida high school seniors will be able to graduate this year and 3rd graders can move on without passing the normally required state assessments, according to a new executive order signed Friday by Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.

Students everywhere have been adversely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic over the last year when schools closed and later reopened with virtual or in-person options.

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Corcoran signed a new emergency order Friday that addresses a wide range of pandemic-related setbacks students have faced, including whether they take year-end assessments.

“Emergency Order-02 protects our 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,” Corcoran said in a statement.

Gov. Ron DeSantis echoed those thoughts in a statement released by his office.

“Over the past year and beyond, Florida has led on prioritizing the education and wellbeing of our state’s students,” DeSantis said. “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.”

Under the order, school districts will be permitted to waive the state assessments required for graduation this spring on a case-by-case basis.

“Local school districts, in consultation with parents, are in the best position to evaluate the academic progress of each student and then make individualized decisions related to students progression and graduation in keeping with the best interest of each child,” the executive order reads.

Schools will also be authorized to determine if a student moves on to the next grade based solely on the student’s performance throughout the course even if they do not have an end-of-course exam.

Again, based on an individual basis, 3rd grade students will be able to move up to 4th grade without an English Language Arts assessment score or a Level 2 ELA score.

Those students will be promoted to the next grade “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 provided in s. 1008.25, Fla. Stat., or other means reasonably calculated to provide reliable evidence of a student’s performance,” according to the executive order.

However, school districts are also required to begin remediation efforts with priority to students at risk of being retained for summer learning programs.

The executive order also addresses school districts’ concerns about school grades or ratings, which can impact funding.

Under Corcoran’s executive order, all schools will maintain their pre-pandemic grades unless a district opts in and applies to the Department of Education to have one or more 2020-2021 school grades recorded.

Schools participating in Florida’s voluntary prekindergarten education, or VPK, program will be required to have 200 hours of instruction for summer 2021 instead of the normally mandated 300, according to the order.

Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar released the following statement Friday in response to the order, saying teachers also deserve some grace:

“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.”

School districts respond

Here’s how Central Florida school districts are responding to the order:

Seminole County Public Schools

“We appreciate the order and agree that the assessments shouldn’t be used towards the school or district grades the state typically assigns. However, we would encourage families to still have their students take the assessments, if able, as we use that data to help measure both learning gaps & progress. This assists us in determining if a student is on-track or potentially needs remediation and/or support in a particular area,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “In regards to graduation and grade advancement, our district leadership will have a meeting on Monday morning to discuss this order in more detail so we can go through it all more thoroughly. I anticipate we’ll be sending out a communication to our families on how this may impact them or what this all means once that occurs.”

Brevard Public Schools

“BPS academic leaders are still in the process of reviewing today’s order,” a spokesperson told News 6. “When that is complete I may have more information for you.”

Sumter County School District

“We did receive this today and we will work with staff to give out guidance on how to proceed on the various topics discussed in the order,” a spokesperson wrote in a statement to News 6.

Osceola County School District

“The Osceola County School Board and District appreciate Commissioner Corcoran’s leadership in Emergency Order #2. Since the onset of the pandemic, Commissioner Corcoran has repeatedly emphasized the importance of learning of all students, balanced by compassion and grace, for the challenges faced by the pandemic. The expectation remains that all students will work collaboratively with parents, teachers, and administrators to make fair and consistent decisions about student graduations, promotion, retention, and placement,” Superintendent Dr. Debra Pace said in a statement.

This section will be updated with additional responses as News 6 hears back from each district.

Check back for updates on this developing story.