State Education Board Passes Measure Duval School Board Warns Will Harm Grad Rate

May 17, 2018

The Florida State Board of Education approved tougher requirements for students who use alternative tests to meet graduation requirements at its meeting Wednesday.

This comes as the Duval County School Board and Jacksonville City Council passed resolutions against the changes, saying they would lower Duval’s graduation rate and therefore negatively impact the economy.

However, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry refused to sign Council’s resolution.

What’s going to change?

To get public school diplomas, in addition to maintaining minimum GPAs, Florida teens must pass two tests: the Florida Standards Assessment in reading and the Algebra I end-of-course exam.

Students who don’t pass those tests can instead score a 19 on the ACT reading portion or 430 on the SAT reading and writing section. Students can also take the math portion of the state-created Postsecondary Education Readiness Test, called P.E.R.T

That’s where the new rules come into play, which will first apply to freshmen entering school this fall.

The minimum reading and writing SAT score will go from a 430 to a 480.

“Which is just a massive change or difference,” said Duval Assistant Superintendent for Accountability and Assessment Kelly Coker-Daniel in an April interview about the changes.

She argues the new changes are college-level, but the test it would be replacing — the FSA — is taken by 10th graders.

The ACT requirement is changing from a 19 in reading, to an 18 average of both the reading and English sections.

The state will also allow the use of SAT or ACT math scores of 420 and 16, eliminating the use of P.E.R.T concordant scores for this purpose altogether.

In an amendment Wednesday, the state board also added the preliminary SAT, known as the PSAT as another option for meeting Algebra I grad requirements.

Why the changes?

A State Board of Education presentation shows the Buros Center for Testing at the University of Nebraska conducted a study on the alignment of the current accepted substitute scores.

It found the P.E.R.T to be too easy, saying it measured “content knowledge expected of students in elementary or middle school.”

The new SAT and ACT proposed passing scores are being recommended based on studying students who had taken one of those exams and the FSA in the same year. It uses percentile ranking to compare the scores.

SAT and ACT tests cost around $60 each and the P.E.R.T is covered by the district at 94 cents.

For the past two years Duval has been paying for juniors to take the SAT or ACT one time during school, although most big districts don’t. Some low-income students also get vouchers to pay for the tests.

Graduation rate in jeopardy

District staff said the change could cause graduation rates to decline between seven and 11 percent. They also said the change would disproportionately impact high schools in high-poverty areas, with as much as a possible 30 percent graduation rate decrease in those schools.

School board member Ashley Smith Juarez pleaded the district's case to Jacksonville City Council earlier this month.

“I want you as council members to understand the potential impact, not just to graduation rates, but to our city and to the economy,” she said.

Smith Juarez had said if the changes are approved, there could be 850 fewer students graduating at the end of a year when its fully implemented.

“Over a 30-year span for this one graduation cohort, this could amount to $250 million in lost economic productivity to the City of Jacksonville — that’s just one cohort and this will happen year after year after year,” she told City Council.

City Council, mayor disagree

City Council passed an emergency resolution, telling the state it also opposes the changes. But Mayor Lenny Curry refused to sign it.

He sent a letter to Council President Anna Lopez Brosche Wednesday saying Council approved the referendum based on only one school board member’s testimony.  

“The Council affirmed language that seems to imply such changes are actually meant to harm young people,” his letter read in part.

It went on to say after researching the changes, the education board is appropriately working to ensure all students strive for a high level of achievement and he wouldn't sign the measure.

Photo used under Creative Commons.

Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.