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When is a junior really a senior?

The School Board will reconsider a system that determines which students should advance to the next level.

By BARBARA BEHRENDT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 12, 2003


INVERNESS -- Figuring out whether a high school student was a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior used to be simple. Students moved through the ranks one year at a time.

Then came the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Sorting out which students should advance to the next level got much more complicated.

In response, Citrus educators changed the rules several years ago so that a student's class status was based on what specific classes they had taken and how many credits they had earned, rather than the number of years they had spent in school.

Now the rule is about to change again. And once again, it's because of the FCAT.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the School Board will open a public hearing on proposed changes to the Pupil Progression Plan. That document, which must be approved each year, provides the blueprint for how students progress toward graduation in Citrus public schools.

In the proposed revision, a student would become a sophomore based solely on the number of credits earned and the fact they had been in school for one year.

That would nullify the requirement that students take one of their four required language arts credits and one of their three required math credits before they could be considered a sophomore.

Under the new rules, sophomores must have six credits and one year of school; juniors would need 12 credits and two years of school; and seniors would need 17 credits and three years of school. Students must have 24 credits to graduate.

School officials set the rule requiring math and language arts credits before students became sophomores because the FCAT that 10th-graders take was a critical part of the state's accountability system. Those scores were used to determine school grades and school recognition dollars. Officials wanted to ensure that students had taken classes covering the material on the test. The FCAT at that time included reading, writing and math questions. To graduate, a student needed to earn 24 credits and pass the High School Competency Test.

Now high school students must pass the FCAT to graduate. The sophomore year is critical because that is when students make their first try at passing the FCAT. If they do not pass in the spring of their sophomore year, they have five more chances.

This year's senior class is the first to be affected by the new rule. State officials have identified 56 Citrus seniors who have not yet passed the reading portion of the test and 43 who have not passed the math portion. Some of those students might not have passed either portion yet.

Under the current rules, based on credits and particular kinds of classes taken, a student could jump from being a freshman to being a junior, effectively cutting out several chances to take the test, according to Bobbie Dilocker, coordinator for secondary education. By switching to a system based solely on years in school plus credits taken, students will be guaranteed all the chances to take the FCAT to which they are entitled. They will still need to earn their 24 credits to graduate as well.

School Board members recognized the problem at the end of 2002 and passed a temporary easing of the old Pupil Progression Plan rules. That means some students moved from freshman to sophomore status at the beginning of this semester, allowing them their first chance to take the FCAT in March -- even if they have not completed one math or language arts credit.

"Once FCAT became the graduation requirement, we must allow time to retake the test," Dilocker said. "It's been a little bit like a soap opera, but in trying to do what's best for the kids, we've had to adjust."

Educators say the FCAT is more difficult than the old High School Competency Test. They knew some students would have trouble passing it and they've worked hard to provide extra schooling for seniors facing their final chance to pass before their class graduates.

"It's not an easy test because it requires critical thinking," Dilocker said. "But those are life skills. They're the skills that we need to live in the times we live in."

Also during Tuesday's regular meeting, the School Board will be asked to purchase a 22-acre parcel in Lecanto as the site of the new Renaissance Center. The property is adjacent to the Citrus County jail and the Withlacoochee State Forest. The plan has generated some concern from neighbors who worry about the safety of students and teachers in an area so close to prisoners and hunters.

Resident Donna Jean De Simone has gathered hundreds of names on a petition asking the board to reconsider the site. She said she plans to return to the board Tuesday and again make her case that another location would work better for the specialized school.

The Renaissance Center is currently housed in portable classrooms behind the District Services Center in Inverness. The school serves middle and high school students from across the county who have been disruptive in class. Another property decision facing the board on Tuesday concerns buying a site for a fourth high school.

The district's site acquisition committee is recommending that the board begin the purchase process for a 120-acre parcel in Citrus Springs at Daytona and Citrus Springs boulevards. The site is just up the road from Citrus Springs Middle School and has the least expensive per-acre cost of the four sites currently on the district's short list. The estimated cost per acre is $6,500.

While there are no immediate plans to build a new high school, officials want to buy a site to be prepared when the need arises. They have chosen the north central area of the county because that is where student populations have been growing.

The board will meet at 4 p.m. Tuesday in the District Services Center at the corner of Main Street and Montgomery Avenue in Inverness.

-- Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or 564-3621.

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