TALLAHASSEE -- TALLAHASSEE A bill that would revamp high school graduation requirements, integrate more technology into the curriculum, and make dramatic changes to the state university system is headed to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.
On Friday, the House voted unanimously to support a proposal that would create two distinct designations for high school diplomas: one for college-bound students seeking an academic challenge, and one for students headed into the workforce.
The sweeping education bill would also designate a “preeminent research university” based on student performance, retention rates, research spending, national rankings and endowment size, among other factors. Those universities would receive additional money to create an online learning institute.
“This is a transformational bill,” House Speaker Will Weatherford said after the vote. “It’s one that will change the trajectory of the education system.”
The bill passed in the Senate by a 33-7 vote Wednesday. A spokeswoman for Scott said he was reviewing the bill.
School superintendents across the state support the move, in part because the current class of high school freshmen are facing challenging new graduation requirements. Some districts have expressed concerns that tougher standards will prevent thousands of students from earning a diploma.
There’s also a philosophical argument: Studies have shown that students are more engaged in their schoolwork when they can connect the lessons to a potential career.
“If students are involved in a program of study that they choose and that is thematically relevant, their chances of success are greatly enhanced and graduation rates increase,” Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said.
Carvalho called the legislative proposal a “thoughtful, measured and balanced approach to ensuring accountability, while taking away the onus of high-stakes over-testing.”
If the proposal becomes law, the requirements for earning a standard diploma in Florida will change dramatically. Students still will have to pass an end-of-course exam in algebra and a standardized test in language arts. But they no longer will have to pass end-of-course exams in geometry and biology.
Instead, those exams would count for 30 percent of a student’s final grade in that subject.
A passing score on the biology exam would be necessary only for students wishing to add a new “scholar” designation to their diploma. Those students also would have to pass the algebra II exam, earn two credits in a foreign language and enroll in at least one college-level class, among other more rigorous requirements.
Students also can add a “merit” designation to their diploma by earning industry certification in a field such as automotive technology.
The proposal doesn’t require students to choose a designation, nor does it set a deadline for a decision. And a “scholar” designation wouldn’t guarantee acceptance into college, just as a “merit” designation wouldn’t preclude a student from pursuing an advanced degree.
“The whole purpose of this bill is to connect the skills of our students with the needs of our employers, and to recognize that not every student in the state of Florida is going to go to college,” said Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, chairwoman of the House K-12 Education Subcommittee.