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Florida High School Graduation Rates Climb Amid Pandemic

Graduate in cap and gown pumps fist and looks into the sunset.
Florida has waived testing requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Graduation rates for Florida high school students ticked up last year, with 90 percent of students graduating, according to a state Department of Education report released last week.

The report showed a 3.1 percentage-point increase in seniors graduating statewide during the 2019-2020 school year. Jacob Oliva, chancellor of the state’s K-12 public school system, attributed at least part of the gains to the state’s waiving of testing requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Though graduation rates are up, I want to be very clear this increase must be understood within the context of the exemptions that were provided in the spring semester to the class of 2020,” Oliva wrote in an email to school superintendents on Thursday. “That compassion and grace for our seniors was absolutely necessary, as we took several steps to ensure that our seniors would have support and opportunities to minimize the disruption of the pandemic on their educational journey. However, it limits the interpretation of these results.”

The report showed that all student demographic groups made gains in graduation rates for seniors. Black students, who had an 86.6 percent graduation rate, saw among the biggest increases, with a 5.1 percentage-point jump. Hispanic students’ graduation rate jumped 3.6 percentage points, to 89.5 percent.

As many students continue distance learning during the pandemic, Oliva wrote that “the collective we will truly be judged by is how we support our struggling students in 2020-2021, just as we quickly acted to support our seniors last school year.”

Florida’s graduation data measures “the percentage of students who graduate within four years of their first enrollment in ninth grade,” and excludes GEDs and special diplomas, the report said.

Florida schools were shuttered last spring in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran ordered schools to offer in-person instruction when classes resumed last fall, but allowed families to choose whether to have students attend in person or continue with distance learning.