State high school graduation rate down year-over-year, but surpasses pre-pandemic levels

by | Jan 13, 2023

  • High school graduation rates are down in Florida compared to the 2020-21 school year, according to data published by the state Department of Education on Friday 
  • Though a decrease compared to the last two years, the figure for the 2021-22 school year surpasses pre-pandemic rates by 0.4 percent 
  • Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar turned to an overreliance on standardized testing metrics to set graduation guidelines as a possible basis for the decline

The Florida Department of Education released its high school graduation statistics for the 2021-22 academic school year, showing a nearly three-point decrease in the state’s high school graduation rate compared to a year ago.

The state’s declared graduation rate for the most recent school year is 87.3 percent, down from 90.1 percent.

The decline is the first time the state has documented a decrease in pupils successfully graduating since at least the 1998-99 school year — the earliest point of data publicly available through the department.

The Department of Education notes that when comparing the 2019‐20 and 2020‐21 graduation rates to the most recent year, it is important to note that due to a pair of emergency orders as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, students in the 2019‐20 and 2020‐21 graduating classes were exempt from statewide standardized assessment requirements.

The orders potentially elevated the graduation rate higher than what would have been the case if standardized testing requirements were enforced. Through the duration of the executive orders, the Department of Education recorded the two highest graduation rates since the inception of its data tracking at 90 percent in 2019-20 and 90.1 percent in 2020-21.

Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar told The Capitolist on Friday that an overreliance on standardized testing is actively working to impede progress in graduation, as evident by the heightened rate of passage through the duration of the Executive Orders.

“When we’re looking at graduation rates … we saw more students graduating when there was not an obstacle of a standardized test given at one point in the year. I think what we see is that standardized tests tend to be an obstacle put in place that prevents students that would otherwise graduate from graduating,” said Spar. “There’s a couple of things to think about with standardized tests — first, parents don’t see these tests or the results. They see a score, but not the test. And two, the standardized tests replace the professional judgment of teachers and administrators at our schools.”

Ahead of the coming 2023-24 school year, Gov. Ron DeSantis passed a decree to eliminate Florida Standard Assessment testing in Florida schools. The move was celebrated by the overwhelming majority of teachers, students, and parents, and could alter the way the state implements graduation requirements.

The testing drew criticism after curriculums shifted to a focus on passing the end-of-year tests rather than thoroughly teaching the material. With the move away from standardized testing, Florida will become the first state in the nation to enact progress monitoring, which is estimated to reduce testing time by upwards of 75 percent

The diagnostic, child-specific monitoring allows educators to track and receive data showing specific subject areas that a student may need remedial instruction on.

In recent standardized math testing, just 51 percent of Florida students in grades three through eight received satisfactory or higher scores in 2021, according to the state Department of Education. The results were 10 percentage points lower than in 2019.

Similar results were seen in English, where only 52 percent of students in grades three through ten earned passing results, a decrease of 3 percent from 2019.

The fifth-grade statewide science testing continued the declining trend, with passing scores dipping 6 percentage points.

State officials are drawing positives out of the data, however, pointing out that 2021-22 high school graduation rate was an increase of 0.4 percentage points over the 2018-19 pre-pandemic school year.

Furthermore, all measured demographics of students, including Black students, Hispanic students, students from economically disadvantaged families, and students with disabilities, all increased their graduation rates from the 2018-19 school year, per the published data.

“Florida students continue on a strong, upward trajectory, with achievement gaps closing here in the graduation rate,” said State Board of Education Member Grazie Christie.

According to the data, DeSoto, Hamilton, and Hendry counties had the lowest percentage of high school seniors graduating. All three counties were found to have between a 75.1 percent and 75.6 percent graduation rate.

Lafayette and Wakulla counties had the strongest graduation rates at 97.6 percent and 97 percent, respectively.


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