Florida education leaders call for fixes to third-grade retention rules
Florida's controversial third-grade retention rules, already the subject of a parent lawsuit, became the target for reform calls Wednesday at the State Board of Education's workshop on legislative priorities.
Speaking for the state superintendents association, St. Johns County superintendent Joe Joyner told the board his organization wants to see a move away from heavy reliance on a single test score to decide student promotion.
The state should "allow as much flexibility as close to the school district as possible to make those decisions," Joyner said.
Parents in six counties have challenged the existing rules, in place since 2003, which have set a Level 2 score on the state's spring reading test as the primary measure of whether a student has to repeat the grade. They have argued that some districts refused to consider other options, also in law, such as a portfolio of classroom performance. Officials in those districts insisted that students needed to participate on the test, which to them meant more than just signing in.
Florida School Boards Association executive director Andrea Messina told the State Board that the dispute highlighted the need for some clarifications in law.
"We know that it's been a problem for you and for our school districts," Messina said.
Board vice chairman John Padget wanted to know what in the law had changed this year that made it more problematic.
No one answered. But one key difference was that in 2014-15, the state didn't have score levels and so third-graders in the bottom 20 percent of performance were only labeled "at risk" of retention, with districts given permission to decide whether to hold them back. It was closer to the flexibility that Joyner proposed, and retentions dropped by nearly half that year.
In 2015-16, by contrast, the score levels were set and the law reverted to the tougher requirement that children score a Level 2 or higher, or qualify for a good cause exemption, to avoid retention.
Commissioner Pam Stewart simply advised Padget that, because of the lawsuit, it would be inappropriate to discuss the issue.
With a clearer law, Messina suggested, "I think we could have avoided" the lawsuit.
The case remains in the courts.