Florida House to Keep Algebra I, 10th Grade English Exams Intact For Graduation

Teens must pass statewide Algebra 1 and 10th grade English Language Arts exams to receive their diplomas.

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Concerned about lowering standards in Florida’s public high schools, the state House on Thursday voted to stick with the original requirements: Teens must pass statewide Algebra 1 and 10th grade English Language Arts exams to be able to get their diplomas.

The Senate would have to vote on the legislation.

During the first week of this year’s legislative session, the Senate passed a package of bills aimed at “deregulating” Florida public schools through measures such as removing Algebra I and 10th grade ELA exams from the graduation requirements in Florida.

That became controversial, with House Speaker Paul Renner vehemently opposed to easing the graduation requirements. Republican Rep. Dana Trabulsy of Port St. Lucie, who sponsored the education deregulation bill in the House, took the same stance as Renner, meaning, leaving Algebra 1 and ELA 10 graduation requirements intact.

Maintaining standards

“I feel like lowering the standards can disproportionately affect students from disadvantaged backgrounds and all students as it may lessen the pressure on schools to provide high-quality education to all students regardless of their socio-economic status,” Trabulsy said on the House floor. “In Florida, high standards of education help ensure that students will be adequately prepared for their future, so lowering our standards here is just absolutely not an option, in my opinion.”

Although the bill received bipartisan support, Democratic Rep. Robin Bartleman of Broward County said she hoped some of the provisions, such as removing the graduation requirements, get added back to the bill.

“The Senate removes the barrier to high school graduation from passing a standardized test in ELA and math. This is really important because a lot of kids have testing anxiety and are not good test takers,” Bartleman said. “I personally know one girl who struggled and struggled, ruined her whole senior year … seeing someone to deal with her anxiety, and it was just to pass up high stakes tests.”

Other opponents — such as the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd), the education think tank founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — say allowing students to graduate, even if they don’t pass the Algebra I and 10th grade ELA exams, would decrease the value of high school diplomas.

“Florida has long been a leader in maintaining high standards, strong accountability and robust choice in education. That’s why copying states like Oregon, New York and New Jersey in rolling back student expectations would have been the wrong way for Florida to go. We’re happy the House rejected these elements of the Senate’s proposal,” wrote Patricia Levesque, CEO of ExcelinEd and executive director of the Foundation for Florida’s Future, in a statement.

On the other hand, people in favor of removing high-stakes tests say a single exam doesn’t reflect students’ knowledge.

“We should be focused on teacher and learning and not high-stakes testing. Testing had a role in helping inform teachers in their instructions, but using tests in a punitive way does not help student learning,” Florida Education Association president Andrew Spar wrote to the Florida Phoenix.

Book challenge fees

Originally, Trabulsy’s education deregulation bill included a $100 “processing fee” on subsequent challenges filed by anyone who’s already filed five unmerited challenges in a district where he or she doesn’t have a child enrolled. She wiped the fee or any other restriction on book bans from the bill because another bill (HB 1285) the House passed last week included the same fee. HB 1285 is still pending Senate approval.

Renner and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo told reporters on Wednesday that they supported efforts to reduce book challenges.

Additionally, parents of students in kindergarten through 2nd grade must have an opportunity to provide input about the decision to retain their kids at their current grade level if they are not proficient in ELA and math.

The deregulation bills have been largely watered down from when lawmakers started talking about the proposals in November. Previously, senators wanted to allow parents to decide whether their 3rd grade student would be held back if they couldn’t read and to allow schools to provide 100 minutes of recess over a week rather than the existing mandate of 20 minutes every day.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: info@floridaphoenix.com. Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

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