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New law could translate into lower grades carly zervis / chronicle

An education law passed by Florida legislators last year could cause Citrus County’s graduation rate to drop by as much as several percentage points, a school board member is cautioning ahead of the grades’ release.

“I was shocked and disappointed to learn that not only was this new formula added into law, but that it was retroactive for 2016-2017 school year — with school districts having no awareness during the school year,” said Citrus County School Board member Thomas Kennedy.

House Bill 7069, often called the Schools of Hope bill for a provision incentivizing charter schools to set up shop near public schools earning consistently low school grades, became law last July.

A line in the 246-page bill requires districts to count students who transfer to private schools with which the district has a contract as non-graduates, rather than as transferred students. Previously, students were only counted as non-graduates if they left school before graduation and didn’t enroll in another school or “educational program” before the end of the school year.

Those educational programs are often private virtual schools, such as Smart Horizons and EdOptions Academy, which contract with school districts. Citrus County has a contract with EdOptions.

Educational programs are most often used when a senior has difficulty passing the standardized tests required by the state for graduation. Citrus has about anywhere from 40 to 60 students who earn a diploma through EdOptions each year, Kennedy said, out of roughly 900 to 1,000 graduating seniors.

“Failing to pass one or more state-required tests for graduation is a tragic consequence for a student’s lack of test-taking skills or any one of myriad other reasons they may not pass,” Kennedy continued. “This is exactly why we need to give students and schools the flexibility to consider other paths to graduation, like evaluation of coursework using portfolios.”

Graduation rates for all school districts are expected to be released before the end of the year.

Detailed 2014-15 graduation rates for each Citrus County high school, as well as other information, can be found in school public accountability reports at https://tinyurl.com/ybvgvm4k. Use the dropdown menu to select a school, then choose “graduation rate and dropout rate.”

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