TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida lawmakers are planning ways for the state to create its own high-level courses and exams on the heels of a scrap between the DeSantis administration and the College Board over its African American studies AP program.
During budget negotiations this week, the Legislature agreed to spend a combined $2.8 million developing a homegrown program to rival the rigorous and nationally recognized AP courses students can take for college credit.
And, in legislation poised to pass, lawmakers are opening the door for students to take a “classical” exam in lieu of the SAT or ACT tests as a requirement for graduation.
These moves indicate the state is attempting to distance itself from the College Board, which administers AP courses and the SAT, at the behest of Republican leaders and Gov. Ron DeSantis, who pushed for the changes after slamming the nonprofit for including courses on queer theory and intersectionality in an emerging course surrounding Black history.
“This College Board, like, nobody elected them to anything,” DeSantis said in February. “They’re just kind of there.”
“They’re providing service — and you can either utilize those services or not.”
Over the last few years, DeSantis, who is expected to launch a 2024 presidential bid soon, has pushed a slate of policies and bills through the GOP legislature that take aim at how children are taught in Florida. Many of those policies, including laws restricting how educators teach gender identity and sexual orientation as well as race, have faced a severe backlash from Democrats and LGBTQ advocates across the country.
The governor’s objections to the College Board’s African American AP studies course angered many Black leaders across the country, with some accusing DeSantis of stoking a cultural fight to boost his presidential aspirations. Hundreds of people, including Black lawmakers and clergy, demonstrated against the DeSantis administration last February and civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump threatened a lawsuit over the governor’s rejection of the course.
In wide-ranging education packages, lawmakers are now calling on the Florida Department of Education to develop new courses and exams alongside state colleges and universities that can gauge student learning in the same vein as the College Board’s Advanced Placement program. AP includes more than 38 high school courses and nationally standardized examinations in several subjects from art to statistics, according to an analysis of the legislation.
The proposal is meant to “create more opportunities for high school students to earn postsecondary credit and reduce time to a degree,” the analysis says.
Lawmakers on Tuesday agreed to give the Department of Education $1.8 million to cultivate the coursework attached to this idea. Then, there is an additional $1 million for the agency to find an “independent third-party testing or assessment organization” to craft assessments for those courses.
The plan is to have this new testing system up and running sometime in next school year, state Sen. Keith Perry (R-Gainesville), the Senate’s education budget chief, told reporters Tuesday.
“There are a lot of kids who are home schooled, there’s a lot of other kids in the state that their education is different than the regular public school education,” Perry said. “We want to make sure there’s a broad capacity for them to be tested, and for that to recognized by the universities.”
In another change that could affect the College Board, the Legislature is considering the Classic Learning Test, or CLT, as an alternative to the SAT and ACT on multiple fronts.
The CLT is a college entrance exam offering tests in English, grammar, and mathematical skills, emphasizing foundational critical thinking skills, according to the bill analysis, which notes that “classic” is a reference to the classic literature and historical texts for the reading selections on the exams.
This fits in with the ideas advocated for by Republican policymakers and DeSantis, who endorsed “classical” education at many turns, including the overhaul being carried out at New College of Florida. As another connection, CLT in April added to its board of academic advisors Christopher Rufo, a conservative activist who DeSantis appointed as a New College trustee.
More than 200 schools accept CLT scores, according to the organization. That includes several colleges in Florida such as Reformation Bible college, Pensacola Christian college, Trinity Baptist College, Stetson University, Saint Leo University and Trinity College of Florida.
The proposed legislation would allow students to take the CLT to qualify for the state’s widely popular Bright Futures Scholarship, which is funded primarily through lottery dollars. As such, Florida’s education department would be tasked with developing a way to measure the CLT test scores against concordant SAT and ACT grades.
It also allows school districts to offer the CLT for free to grade 11 students, just like the SAT or ACT is currently.
The education package containing these changes is slated to pass the House on Wednesday. A similar Senate bill advanced in its last committee hearing Tuesday and is now eligible to be considered by the full chamber.
“We want to have multiple options for students,” House Speaker Paul Renner (R-Palm Coast) told reporters last week.
“This is a way for us to really closely align what we do so that high school students graduating can get immediate credit by our state universities,” Renner added.