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Fast-Track Academic Path Approved in Florida

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A measure aimed at making it easier for Florida students to receive "accelerated instruction," such as skipping a class or moving more quickly through a grade level if they are academically ready, has been signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Florida law already offers a range of options for students seeking to move through the K-12 system, or make the transition from high school to college study, at a faster pace than normal. School districts are required to consider a variety of factors in determining students' eligibility for those accelerated options, including students' test performance, grade-point averages, attendance, and behavior.

But the new law—dubbed "Academically Challenging Curriculum to Enhance Learning"—is meant to give current provisions more teeth, by requiring principals and school districts to set clearer eligibility requirements for students, and take more aggressive steps to notify parents and students of their options, said Florida state Rep. John Legg, a Republican backer of the legislation.

Florida school districts currently provide information to parents on accelerated course options through a variety of means, including letters sent home to families. But the bill would require principals to set clearer processes for giving parents that information, and provide detailed information on the requirements for participation. It would also require "performance contracts" among the parents, students, and principals, in setting standards for student who want to take part.

Under current law, principals already have the power to allow students to move on a faster-paced academic track, but sometimes "school districts discourage it," Legg said in an interview, because "it doesn't fit into the typical model."

The overriding goal is avoid leaving students in "classrooms where they're not being challenged," he said.

The measure also allows students who graduate from high school early—in mid-year—to begin receiving money through the state's Bright Futures Scholarship program that spring, rather than waiting until the fall. Some other states have sought to make it easier for high school-age students to tap state money for college, ahead of schedule. Indiana, for instance, approved a law last year that allows students who graduate early to use a share of their per-pupil aid to cover higher education costs.

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