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State removes GED Exit Option

MANATEE — During the past three years, hundreds of Manatee County students made it through high school thanks to an alternative graduation program called the GED Exit Option.

It allowed those students in jeopardy of not graduating with their class to earn diplomas if they met other requirements, including passing the state FCAT exam and GED tests.

But as of this month, that option is no longer available.

That’s because the Florida Department of Education announced that a formal review of the program revealed there is no “statutory authority” to issue those students mainstream diplomas.

“As a result, the GED Exit Option will no longer be available to students in Florida as of Aug. 1, 2009,” Frances Hancock, the state’s chancellor of public schools, wrote in a July 31 memo to school district superintendents.

That means students must now qualify for a standard diploma or other approved graduation options, including a GED equivalency diploma, Lynette Edwards, Manatee County School District assistant superintendent of curriculum, said Thursday. To obtain a standard diploma, a student must have 24 credits, a 2.0 GPA and pass the FCAT, among other requirements.

The Exit Option program had allowed enrolled high school students in jeopardy of not graduating with their classmates to get a diploma if they pass FCAT and GED tests. Other requirements included they be age 17 or older and enrolled in a dropout prevention program, Edwards said.

Students who qualified stayed enrolled in school and walked with their class at graduation.

“That is why it’s called the exit option,” said Linda Agresta, who oversees the GED Exit Option program at Manatee Technical Institute. “We are always happy when someone achieves their high school diploma. The GED Exit Option program was just another choice for students to get it.”

As of Aug. 1, some 15 Manatee district students were in the Exit Option program. “We will notify them and their parents that we will be able to issue them a GED, provided they meet all the requirements,” Edwards said.

The GED requirements include being at least 17 years old and passing the GED tests. “If they are not 17, we will have to discuss how we will work out the program for them,” Edwards said. “Our goal is to work with these 15 students to graduation.”

During the 2008-09 school year, 136 Manatee school district students got diplomas using the GED Exit Option, said district spokeswoman Margi Nanney. The year before, there were 128 such graduates.

In Hillsborough County, 159 district students obtained diplomas using the program during 2008-09 school year.

In the Sarasota County School District, 159 got diplomas during the 2007-08 school year. Statistics for the 2008-09 year were not available, district spokesman Scott Ferguson said. He did say the average number of GED Exit Option diplomas distributed during the 2004-2008 school years each year was 154.

The state’s cancellation of the program has some educators here worried.

“If we have students who were considering the program, I am very concerned about what will happened to those students,” Edwards said.

The move has also drawn frustration from the school board.

“I think it’s a program that has probably helped kids to stay in school,” said board member Walter Miller. “We are already concerned about getting kids to graduate, and now they have cut off that avenue. And the way it was done ... there was no warning. It just happened, boom.”

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