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Graduation requirements changing

By Staff | Sep 27, 2011

Due to end-of-course exams to be administered by the state, graduation requirements are expected to change for incoming freshmen in the Lee County School District for the next few years. .

Chief Academic Officer Dr. Constance Jones said the graduation requirements for current ninth grade students includes 24 credits, an unweighted grade point average of a 2.0, one online course, passing 10th grade FCAT reading and passing the algebra 1 end-of-course exam. She said the requirements also include passing the biology and geometry exams, which will be 30 percent of the course grade.

“I am referring to students entering ninth grade for the first time,” Jones said about the graduating class of 2015.

The new requirement for the algebra 1 end-of-course exam requires students to pass to get credit for the course.

Last year the algebra 1 end- exam consisted of 30 percent of the student’s final score. Now that the district is entering their second year of implementing the state algebra 1 exam, the overall percentage of the test can be lower or higher than 30 percent of the overall score, according to Jones.

“This year the end-of-the course exam should go back to 20 percent,” she said, adding that that is the standard requirement for the exam. “If they pass the exam they will get credit for algebra 1.”

Jones said they will offer multiple opportunities at the end of each semester for students to retake the algebra exam to receive credit.

Superintendent Dr. Joseph Burke said the algebra 1 exam is no longer a locally prepared test, but rather a state test that each student has to pass.

“It’s a bit of a Catch-22,” he said. “The students still have to pass the end-of-course exam to get the credit.”

The district is anticipating that next year the students will have the opportunity to take the exam and opt out of taking the algebra 1 course itself if they are successful with their score.

Jones said she predicts by the spring students will be allowed to test out and move on to accelerate in the next higher level course if they have a passing score for the algebra end-of-course exam

Burke said in the spring he would like to do a workshop, so the board and the community are fully aware of the direction the district is moving towards.

He said the reality is that the district has a significant number of students in high school right now who could probably finish high school in three years or less and move on. Burke said they should probably have a conversation in the near future regarding that because the state is moving in a direction where an end -of-course exam is the measure of whether the student is awarded credit or not.

Board member Jeanne Dozier said their virtual school allows students to progress at their own pace. She said technically the district could have students graduating by the time they are 12-13 years old while enrolled in virtual school.

“Virtual school is becoming a very competitive school for the traditional school,” Dozier said.

Burke said discussions need to be had at how the district wants to look at progression of their students moving forward. He said at the same time they have students who need to go to school for five years to obtain the level of knowledge they need to move forth.

“When the student is on a five-year plan that is an extra year of cost that we are spending on that particular student, but on the other hand if we have students that can finish in three years they can move on,” he said about the district potentially saving money.

Down the road, Burke said all the issues concerning FCAT requirements are going to go away in 2014-2015 when new common core assessments will be administered to all students in the state of Florida.

“This is a new world that we are in to,” Burke said because ninth grade students entering high school next year and the year after are going to have different requirements. “It is a moving target for all of our students entering high school. We have a real challenge in terms of how we are going to handle that.”

The online course requirement is one of the newer requirements the incoming freshman students have to meet to graduate.

Jones said although they have not received a lot of technical assistance for the online courses yet, students have a lot of flexibility when taking the online course.

“The whole point of this requirement is all of us are going to be needing to use computers regardless of the pathway we are going to take in our career,” she said.

The strategic plan and Burke’s No. 1 goal is to increase the graduation rate by 3 percent.

Jones said to tackle the strategic plan, reading is essential in trying to improve performance by students in their courses. She said the district is increasing theits efforts in reading by providing teacher training, along with dedicating additional resources to all of the high schools.

Board member Jane Kuckel said she would like to see all of the schools implement data notebooks for their students. She said the notebook tracks individual student progress because they set their own goals, which also provides a great way for the parents to become involved in their child’s school work.

“When parents get involved it is black and white,” Kuckel said about the student’s progress.

She said they should also have parents sign off on the child’s progress, so they have ownership in how their child is doing in school.

Dozier agreed in saying that a data notebook helps keep the students organized, along with showing them where they are and where they are going.