Florida Senators Push for Relaxed Academic Requirements In Some K-12 Grades

State senators are looking to reform public education by allowing more parental control.

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As the legislative session approaches, Florida senators are looking to reform public education by allowing more parental control over students passing third grade and eliminating some high school graduation requirements, among other measures.

Sen. Corey Simon, who serves many north Florida counties, the sponsor of the “Deregulation of Public Schools/Assessment and Accountability, Instruction, and Education Choice” bill, defended his legislation from criticisms in public comment that it would water down academic standards and the value of a high school diploma.

The proposed bill would significantly impact high school students by removing the requirement to pass the Algebra 1 end-of-course exam and Grade 10 English Language Arts assessment to earn a diploma.

Nathan Hoffman, a senior legislative director for the Foundation for Florida’s Future, said his nonprofit is concerned about removing such requirements for graduation.

“In our view, a high school diploma should signal to employers and post-secondary institutions that a student is ready for the workforce or post-secondary education without remediation,” Hoffman said. “Removing the passing requirements significantly waters down the value of the diploma.”

Simon defended his bill in an impassioned speech, saying neither employers nor universities and colleges care about end-of-course exams on their face – but rather grades, a diploma, and scores on tests such as the SAT. The reform, he said, would grant more flexibility for those looking to learn a trade or join the military out of high school.

“Let’s stop dancing behind this facade as if folks are looking at this temporary test,” Simon said. “We’re holding back a whole generation of kids that can enter the workforce that have no intention of going into our traditional post-secondary institutions.”

The bill would also allow parents more say if they want their student to pass third grade if they don’t read adequately. If a parent wants their student to move up, they could work with the school to create an intervention plan instead of a passing English assessment score.

Nancy Lawther, the Florida PTA’s legislative advocate, said her organization had slight concerns about the change to third-grade retention. While Lawther said the PTA supported a “shared decision-making process,” she also suggested closer monitoring for learning disabilities among students promoted to fourth grade via an exception.

Simon claimed elementary school teachers have been passing students through kindergarten, first, and second grade, expecting third-grade retention to be a “backstop.”

“We’re [going to be] able to find those students much earlier on in the process and give them the support they need, so it doesn’t take them to get all the way to third grade,” Simon said.

Simon also rescinded a proposal to make recess scheduling more flexible on the district level after overwhelming public pushback.

Simon’s bill joined two others focused on education reform to pass unanimously through the Senate Committees on Fiscal Policy and Education, a favorable indication of their chances in the coming legislative session. Representatives from the Miami-Dade, Seminole, and Hillsborough – predominantly blue counties – signaled support for the reform introduced by Republican legislators.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus 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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