Liberty County gambled by opening the Algebra 1 door to most of its 8th graders. Now comes the punishment from the state.

Rural Liberty County – located in Florida’s Big Bend fifty miles southwest of Tallahassee – took a big chance this year by enrolling two-thirds of their 100 8th graders in Algebra 1.  The county’s education leaders were likely motivated by the knowledge that the students who passed the course would have a head start on the high school preparation necessary to pursue a lucrative career in a STEM field.

But Liberty County’s education leaders also had to know that Florida’s K-12 assessment and school grading system could exact a harsh penalty on the school district two ways for making this bold decision. First, if the 8th grade Algebra 1 students didn’t perform well on the state’s Algebra 1 end-of-course exam, that could hurt the grades of both the students’ school and the school district as a whole. Second, the Algebra 1 students would not be allowed to take the state’s FSA 8th grade math test – state law now prohibits “double-testing”. And with so many of the district’s strongest 8th graders taken out of the pool of students being assessed with the FSA math test, it was a strong possibility that the district’s result on that test would hurt the school and district grades even more.

As it turned out, the school and district were indeed hurt by their decision to provide the opportunity to take Algebra 1 for so many 8th graders. Only 41% of the 8th grade Algebra 1 students (27 of the 66 8th graders in the course) passed the state’s end-of-course exam. That was well below the statewide 86% passing rate for 8th graders on the Algebra exam.
And as for those Liberty County 8th graders “left behind” to take the FSA math exam? Only 13% passed.

Despite the “acceleration” credits the district will receive toward improving its grade from the 27 8th graders who passed the Algebra 1 EOC, the district will get hammered through testing for giving so many kids the opportunity to try out Algebra 1.

Of course, I don’t really know what was happening on the ground in Liberty County, which has the smallest population of any county in Florida. Perhaps it was obviously foolish to allow so many 8th graders to take Algebra 1. After all, the 66 students (of 100 8th graders) who took Algebra 1 gave the county the highest rate of middle school course-taking in Algebra 1 in Florida – far ahead of the traditional math and science superpowers Brevard and Seminole Counties.

But maybe Liberty was right to take a chance on those 66 students. After all, the potential payoff for the students in career opportunities was tremendous.

And as for those 8th graders that didn’t pass the EOC in May? There is another opportunity to pass the EOC this summer, if the school district decides to invest in the preparation necessary. These kids could transition right into Geometry this coming fall as if nothing went wrong at all.

Nevertheless, Liberty County will take a hit on its district grade because of its hubris in giving so many 8th graders such a terrific opportunity. Perhaps it’s a great example of that old saying that no good deed goes unpunished.

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