Fewer Pasco third graders retained under stopgap accountability law change

Published Dec. 15, 2015

Since the late 1990s, Florida third graders have faced the threat of repeating the grade if their reading scores didn't meet muster on state exams. Social promotion had to go, leaders reasoned.

With standards and tests in transition last year, though, lawmakers temporarily changed the rules. Instead of requiring schools to retain third graders at the lowest levels, unless they had a good cause exemption, the Legislature allowed schools to make the final call on how to handle each child.

It was, to be sure, a minor distinction. But it had fairly significant results.

Freed from a solid mandate to hold back kids considered "at risk" in the lowest 20 percent, schools didn't do it as much. They promoted more children, offering them supports to succeed.

Consider Pasco County schools as an example.

In 2013-14, the district promoted 4,439 of 5,469 third graders, or 81 percent, based on their FCAT Reading tests. Another 498, or 9 percent, received good cause promotions, leaving 532, or 10 percent, retained.

A new report shows that a year later, under the new rule, the district promoted 5,345 of 5,602 third graders, or 95 percent, based on their Florida Standards Assessment language arts tests. Another 92, or 2 percent, received good cause promotions, leaving 165, or 3 percent, to repeat the grade.

The retention rules currently are set to revert to the old model for 2015-16. There hasn't been any discussion of keeping the one-year flexibility intact.