More time for testing, but Florida concerned students are falling behind

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida is preparing to find out what kind of a toll the pandemic has had on public education, with state leaders on Monday getting a glimpse of what has been lost and who is paying the price.

“The science and data told us that we were likely to see an exacerbation of achievement gaps, those students who are traditionally disadvantaged for a variety of reasons are likely to suffer the most,” said J. Alex Kelly, the chief of staff for the Florida Department of Education.  “The data we are seeing in Florida and in other places are that the poor and marginated tend to suffer the most when schools are closed.”

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Even though Florida has made a robust effort to re-open schools, many students have not returned. This is true both for K-12 and for the voluntary state pre-kindergarten (VPK).

According to DOE, VPK enrollment fell to 50% of pre-pandemic levels and has slowly rebound, but remains just 75% of 2019-2020 enrollment.

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While the number of K-12 in-person learning students has increased from 54% to 65%, there are still 87,000 public K-11 students who did not enroll, with 57,000 of whom did not indicate where they would be attending class.

“I’m very concerned when we’re talking on testing and our kids moving forward, there is no doubt there is the COVID slide,” said Sen. Gayle Harrell (R - St. Lucie). “From what I’m hearing there is going to be a huge slide.”

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DEO said that it is still monitoring progress and looking to tailor support for students as soon as they are identified, but stress the sooner the student is reached, the easier it will be to get the student back up to grade-level.

In the meantime, the state is giving schools more time and flexibility for assessments.

Testing windows will vary by grade and test: Grade-3 ELA/reading has been extended until April 30, Grade 4-10 writing tests have been extended until April 30, Grade 4-6 ELA has been extended to May 28, Grade 3-6 math has been extended to May 28, Grade 5-6 science has been extended to May 28, Grade 7-10 ELA/math has been extended to June 11.

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The state says the additional time will allow schools to practice social distancing by spacing out students better for tests.

Grade 3 reading assessment data will be reported on June 30, with all other assessment data reported by July 31.