Manatee student progression plan now includes principal discretion for college-level courses

In this file photo, Superintendent Diana Greene and Manatee County School Board member Dave Miner listen to Amy Lee as she addresses the student progression plan during public comments at a workshop at the School Support Center in Bradenton.
In this file photo, Superintendent Diana Greene and Manatee County School Board member Dave Miner listen to Amy Lee as she addresses the student progression plan during public comments at a workshop at the School Support Center in Bradenton.

Students who want to take college-level courses in Manatee County high schools but have refused to take the state-mandated Florida Standards Assessments test may be able to take advantage of a principal override and still enroll in the courses.

That’s according to changes made to the Manatee County School District student progression plan by the Manatee County School Board during a workshop Tuesday. None of the changes have been finalized. The board will vote on the proposed changes during the July 26 meeting.

For the third time in as many weeks, the board discussed changes to the student progression document, which lays out how students move from one grade to another, among other things.

“I think most things have been addressed,” Cynthia Saunders, deputy superintendent of instruction, said during the workshop.

Conversation revolved around requirements to admit high school students into college-level courses and outlining elementary recess schedules more clearly.

College courses

After discussion, the board asked to change the district proposal to allow principals some discretion when enrolling high school students into college-level courses, including advanced placement, international baccalaureate and advanced international certificate of education.

“I think you give them the ability to use their best judgment. That’s what we pay them to do,” board member Bob Gause said.

The board stipulated the principal discretion should only happen if a student, or someone on the student’s behalf, requests the course.

The district’s original proposed plan requires students to have a minimum 3.0 grade-point average and a level 3 or higher on the state-mandated FSA test. Students can replace the FSA score with a concordant score from one of a number of equivalent tests.

“We will take any type of a standardized test to allow for admission,” Saunders said.

Students who meet district requirements will be able to enroll in the course and won’t need the principal’s discretion.

After hearing from parents, the board asked to keep those basic requirements in place but allow principals to override those requirements if they chose to do so.

Many parents argued the district shouldn’t use the FSA as a requirement saying the FSA test is invalid and the district shouldn’t use lack of a FSA score to keep students from taking advanced classes.

Board member Charlie Kennedy first suggested the override, and he won the support of other board members.

Parents who had previously spoken to the board about the issue also liked the board’s suggestion.

The board’s requested changes won’t be in effect for dual-enrollment courses with State College of Florida, because SCF lays out its own protocol for students to be accepted.

Play time

For the 2016-17 school year, the student progression plan also includes more clarification on recess and physical education. Physical education is considered structured physical time overseen by a teacher whereas recess is seen as unstructured, allowing students to play as they wish.

“There it is in writing,” said board member Charlie Kennedy.

A push to require unstructured recess or play time in Florida schools failed to pass through the Legislature this year, but it may become a requirement in future years with a contingent of parents across the state pushing for it. The issue first surfaced in Manatee County in 2014.

“We’re ahead of the curve,” Kennedy said.

Within the district schedule for elementary schools, “specials” — which include physical education, music, art and other classes — are 40-minute blocks. Within that 40-minute block, 30 minutes are structured and 10 minutes are unstructured play.

On the days students have physical education as part of their specials rotation, they can also have up to 20 minutes of unstructured recess time.

Principals will have the discretion of when to schedule the additional time and could tack it onto the end of the special so it would be 30 minutes of structured physical time next to 30 minutes of unstructured play time.

On the days students don’t have physical education as part of their special rotation, schools will offer a minimum 30 minutes of unstructured recess time.

The compromise meets a state mandate regarding the number of minutes of physical education per week and also satisfies parents who have spoken before the board, asking for more unstructured time for students to decompress and interact with one another.

The schedules are not new, officials said, but haven’t previously been included in the progression plan.

“It makes sense to put it here as well,” said Ryan Saxe, a district official who helped update the student progression plan.

The board also approved:

▪ Expelling a middle school male student for bringing a BB gun to campus.

▪ Donating 20 buses to Manatee School for The Arts to start its own bus fleet.

▪ A $200,000 contract with Shinn & Co. to provide internal audit services.