Pasco County school district clarifies third-grade retention rules
Days before heading back to court over the issue, the Pasco County school district has sent teachers and principals a set of guidelines on how to proceed in the promotion and retention of third graders this spring.
Along with several other districts and the Florida Department of Education, Pasco faces a legal challenge over the way it has interpreted the Jeb Bush-era statute requiring third graders to pass a state reading test or receive a good-cause exemption. The district is contesting the suit.
The complaint alleges that Pasco, along with Hernando and other districts, denied students who refused to test the opportunity to use any other exemptions listed in law. Pasco officials have said they have not required students to have a test score to qualify for the other methods of promotion.
In her memo to staff, Teaching and Learning director Rayann Mitchell said the district is not changing its approach, lacking any new information from the courts or the state. This spring, she wrote, the goal also is to provide good communication to parents about the rules and procedures for each step.
"The state law prohibits the FSA-ELA from being the sole determiner of promotion to fourth grade," according to the letter going home to parents. "A third grader who scores Level 1 on the FSA-ELA may be exempt from mandatory retention if he/she meets one of the good cause exemptions."
Those include an alternate reading test approved by the state, and a portfolio of classroom work. Parents may request portfolio assessments at any time, and Mitchell reminds staff that they should retain a variety of materials that demonstrate a child's reading level, just in case.
Last year, the district used results of students' Independent Reading Level Assessment (IRLA) performance to promote dozens of third graders who did not have a passing Florida Standards Assessment score. The plan is to use the same material, along with other work completed in class independently, if necessary.
The district also provided schools with portfolio cover sheets to help teachers document students' work, and good cause exemption tracking sheets to record and explain the non-FSA promotions granted.
The third-grade retention lawsuit is far from settled. Arguments over venue are set to take place Tuesday in the First Circuit Court of Appeal in Tallahassee.