Among numerous other things, the enormous education policy bill signed by Governor Scott yesterday (HB 7069) ended the life of Florida’s Algebra 2 end-of-course exam.

Good riddance.

The well-informed reader might be wondering why I would say that. After all, the news on this spring’s administration of the Algebra 2 exam was good. The number of students passing the test statewide this spring was 10% higher (about 5,000 students) than it was last spring.

But there was a problem. During the 2016-17 school year, 10% fewer students took Algebra 2 in Florida’s public schools than in 2015-16. Algebra 2 is essentially mandatory for any student who wants to attend a four-year college. It is also the gateway high school math course to associate-level STEM degrees. So a decline in Algebra 2 enrollment is a very bad thing.

Why the enrollment decline? Algebra 2 is not required for graduation, but the passing rate on the EOC counted toward the school grade. So high school principals were incentivized to take marginal students out of Algebra 2 and put them in other math courses. I heard of one high school in a different part of the state where an entire classroom full of IB students was placed in Liberal Arts Math 2 instead of Algebra 2 because of the risk that these IB students might lower the school’s Algebra 2 EOC passing rate and therefore hurt the school’s grade.

With the departure of the Algebra 2 EOC to wherever deceased standardized exams go, the incentive for principals to do crazy things like that disappeared. If principals or school boards want accountability in their Algebra 2 classes, they can have those students take Florida’s PERT (Postsecondary Education Readiness Test), which has real-world consequences for the state’s community college-bound students.

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