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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Florida third graders without reading test scores have few options for promotion, state says

Parents in several Florida counties are getting angry as they receive word that their children face another year of third grade, despite their classroom performance.

It's all because the children opted out of the Florida Standards Assessments, and don't want to take a different exam to prove they deserve to move on -- regardless of what state statute requires.

Parents from Manatee and Seminole counties told stories of their high achieving children being told they needed to take an alternate test or provide a portfolio proving their reading mastery to avoid retention. They contend they're being threatened, and suggest their children's report cards, progress reports and other materials should suffice.

That's what is happening in some other districts, they say.

But unlike a year ago, when districts had more flexibility to make promotion decisions because the state had not issued FSA scores, the options are more limited this spring. Department of Education officials told district leaders during a Wednesday conference call that the law is clear: Testing is required, and a score of Level 1 means retention unless a student gains a good cause promotion. It reads, in relevant part:

To be promoted to grade 4, a student must score a Level 2 or higher on the statewide, standardized English Language Arts assessment required under s. 1008.22 for grade 3. If a student's reading deficiency is not remedied by the end of grade 3, as demonstrated by scoring Level 2 or higher on the statewide, standardized assessment required under s. 1008.22 for grade 3, the student must be retained. ... The district school board may only exempt students from mandatory retention, as provided in paragraph (5)(b), for good cause.

"A student can participate in reading camp and be promoted through evidence in a portfolio developed during reading camp or a defined score on an alternate assessment. Or the student can be given the alternate assessment now or upon entry into third grade again next year and be promoted to fourth within next year's school year if a defined score on an alternate assessment is met," the department stated in a written summary of the meeting.

"There are no other options approved in state law or rule for this student."

Bob Schaeffer, the Florida-based public education director for the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, told the Gradebook he sees a potential lawsuit in the making. He called the practice one of the most egregious misuses of testing results he had seen.

"Such a policy would mean that a third-grader who takes the FSA and scores poorly (whether intentionally or not) can still be promoted. Yet, an outstanding student who regularly produces proficient school work will be retained simply for not taking the exam," Schaeffer said via email. "That treats test participation as more important than actual performance, an insane policy. ... This could well end up in litigation."

Some lawyer names have been bandied about in Facebook groups. Lawsuits have yet to materialize, though.

These parents and students are not the first to struggle with the retention issue. Read about how one Hernando family tried to cope in 2003.

[Last modified: Thursday, May 26, 2016 2:13pm]


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