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DOE Investigating Whether Districts Are Inflating Grad Rates; Panhandle Districts Eyed

Florida Department of Education

The Florida Department of Education says it’s investigating whether some school districts are inflating their graduation rates.  Leon and Gadsden County Schools use a company called EdMentum, also known as EdOptions. Hamilton, Dixie and Levy County Schools use a company called Smart Horizons. Others use Giant Campus. Such programs are at the center of the state's probe.

These are all alternative, online charter schools, where students can earn a High School Diploma without having to pass Florida’s standardized exams. That’s led to accusations that these districts and five others, are using the companies to dump struggling students and inflate their graduation rates. That’s because these kids aren’t counted in the district’s overall figures. Now Education Commissioner Pam Stewart wants an investigation.

“The reason this is potentially concerning is because if this is done inappropriately, or without good reason, the state, district graduation rates may not be a complete picture of our students’ performance, she said Wednesday during a state board of education meeting. 

More than 47 percent of Nassau seniors withdrew to a charter, more than 57 percent of Taylor County seniors did the same. Numbers were also high for Manatee, Collier, and Columbia County Schools. The issue was recently highlighted in a ProPublica report.  

In August, WFSU examined Leon County's use of EdMentum and EdOptions. The company at the time boasted on its website that it was directly responsible for an increased graduation rate at Rickards High School.

Online Classes Help Leon's Grad Rate Soar As District Defends Its MethodsThe graduation rate of the Leon County School District has soared in the past five years, thanks largely to the use of online courses. School district officials have worked hard to get students to the finish line-offering a number of pathways. But some of those methods are under scrutiny.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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