Polk County Public Schools’ graduation rate decreased to 78.3% in 2021-2022, according to the latest data released today by the Florida Department of Education.
District officials continue to analyze the data, but they anticipated a drop due to changes in graduation requirements during the pandemic.
State exams were waived as graduation requirements during the pandemic (2019-20 and 2020-21 school years). As a result, students did not need to pass these exams to earn their diploma, and more seniors were able to graduate without this requirement in place. The exams once again became a requirement in 2021-2022.
Comparing 2018-2019 to 2021-2022 represents a true “apples to apples” comparison, as the 2018-19 school year was the last year prior to 2021-22 that Florida’s statewide, standardized assessment requirements for graduation were in place without exemption waivers.
In Polk County, there was a 2.9 percentage point decrease from 81.2% in 2018-2019.
“Let me be clear; it’s absolutely unacceptable to see our graduation rate decrease,” said Superintendent Fred Heid. “No one is satisfied with these results. No one is making excuses. Yes, the pandemic was an incredibly tough challenge, but we must keep moving forward and regain lost ground.”
Nearly all of Polk’s traditional and charter high schools experienced a drop in comparison to pre-pandemic graduation rates.
“Students earning diplomas is the ultimate measure of success,” Heid said. “We must increase the graduation rates for all schools, and ensure our diploma means students are best prepared for their careers and post-secondary education.”
“We’ve already been aggressively providing additional support to our schools and students,” Heid said. “Guidance counselors and success coaches are working closely with students to help them complete their graduation requirements. Sometimes students just need guidance filling out paperwork or determining what courses they must complete. Teachers are also helping to identify students who struggle with exams, and we’re providing extra tutoring and practice to improve their performance.”