Think dropping the Bright Futures test score requirement is an awful idea? One group of students is already exempt…

Not everybody likes my idea (described in an op-ed in yesterday’s Tallahassee Democrat) to drop the test score requirement from Florida’s Bright Futures program and replace it with a requirement for higher level high school math and science courses – Precalculus, Biology, Chemistry, Physics and computer programming.  I suggested dropping the test score for the same reason that the Office of Civil Rights of the US Department of Education is investigating the program for evidence of racial discrimination:  because in increasing the required minimum SAT score from 970 to 1170 (to control the number of scholarships and thus the program cost) the State of Florida disproportionately excluded black and Latino students.  I argued that substituting my course requirement for the test score would not result in a decrease in rigor, but would instead keep opportunities open to more students to pursue college majors and careers in the most economically attractive fields.

But removing the test score requirement has a kind of visceral impact.  Isn’t the test score central to the concept of the Bright Futures program?  Wouldn’t we be setting a bad precedent by dropping the test score requirement just to get more kids from disadvantaged backgrounds in the program?

It turns out the answer to both of those questions is no.  There is already a group of students that is exempt from the Bright Futures test score requirement.  And they are mostly not from disadvantaged backgrounds.  In fact, it is a remarkably affluent group.

It’s graduates of International Baccalaureate (IB) and Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) programs.  Florida students who earn diplomas in these programs are exempt from the Bright Futures test score requirement (see page 5 of this).

I couldn’t find Florida-specific statistics on the demographics of the IB program, and I didn’t locate any information on AICE demographics.  But the International Baccalaureate Organization reported that in May 2009 only 16% of diploma candidates in its American schools were eligible for free and reduced price lunches.  Compare that statistic to this:  In the 2009-2010 school year, 47.5% of American K-12 students were eligible for free and reduced price lunches.

The IB population is remarkably affluent.  And in Florida, they are exempt from the Bright Futures test score requirement.

Maybe since we are already exempting a select group of affluent kids from the Bright Futures test score requirement, we should exempt everybody.  And substitute a requirement that will help steer kids toward the careers with the greatest economic opportunities.

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