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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida's third-grade retention initiative starts to spread



It's been a decade since Florida started holding back third graders who aren't reading at grade level.

The state uses the FCAT as an initial screener, with children scoring the lowest Level 1 as the initial candidates for retention. The kids can take a second test, offer a portfolio or qualify for a handful of other exemptions to move on. Those who don't are assigned to repeat the grade with extra remedial help and the ability to win promotion to fourth grade as soon as they demonstrate they've achieved the third-grade standard.

Other states are replicating the effort. Oklahoma launches in 2013. Ohio leaders are discussing the idea.

USA Today ran a point-counterpoint on the topic this week, with Florida as a prime example in the conversation.

The paper's editorial board suggests that remediation is a much better investment of time and money than retention: "If lawmakers and educators want students to read — and want to spend taxpayer money wisely — identify them early, provide special programs and make repeating a grade the last resort."

Taking the opposing view is Marcus A. Winters of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Winters recently wrote a report on Florida's third-grade retention plan for the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. He argues: "Several states that are considering ending social promotion — the practice of moving low-performing students to the next grade for socialization reasons — are on the right track. ... The benefit from Florida's policy is quite large relative to other interventions, and it lasts for several years."

Thousands of Florida third-graders are worrying about this very topic as they face the FCAT beginning Monday. Are Florida and other states doing the right thing with their retention policies?

[Last modified: Friday, April 13, 2012 3:20pm]


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