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Lawsuit challenging Florida's third-grade retention law quietly ends

Three Hernando County girls sit in the Chocachatti Elementary School lobby in fall 2016 waiting to learn if they can enter fourth grade. Their families challenged the state retention law, saying children should not need to pass the state third-grade reading test to win promotion.
Three Hernando County girls sit in the Chocachatti Elementary School lobby in fall 2016 waiting to learn if they can enter fourth grade. Their families challenged the state retention law, saying children should not need to pass the state third-grade reading test to win promotion.
Published Jul. 28, 2017

From the missed it while on vacation files: The Florida Supreme Court has refused to hear parents' complaint against the state's third-grade retention law, leaving intact an appellate court ruling against the parents' position.

In its one-page order, issued July 17, the Supreme Court denied a request for review of the appellate ruling, without explanation. It did not leave open the option of a rehearing.

Andrea Mogenson, the lawyer representing parents from Hernando and other counties, had contended the First District Court of Appeals had misapplied law relating to venue. The parents filed suit in Leon County, but the districts argued that they should be sued in their home counties. The DCA agreed with the districts.

The DCA also praised the "laudable purpose" of testing as a way to determine whether a student requires more reading instruction. The parnets had contended their children need not sit for the state test, and that their report cards and other course work should suffice for purposes of gaining promotion.

Many had their children simply sign their names to the test and answer no questions, calling it "minimal participation" to meet state testing requirements. The DCA judges ridiculed that position.

The law calls for a passing score on the state reading test or an alternative exam to move to fourth grade. Students without a passing score also can avoid retention with a portfolio of classroom work, the definition of which has been disputed by parents and districts.

Sandy Stenoff, a leader of the Opt-Out Florida Network, said the challenge would require a new set of plaintiffs if it were to move ahead any further. The children involved in the original case have finished fourth grade in private or home schooling, and a new round of third grade retentions has yet to be finalized.

The state has expanded the list of accepted alternative tests to the Florida Standards Assessments, making it arguably easier to win promotion, and several districts have modified their portfolio options to allow students to use them even without a test score.

"We will have to see if districts are still retaining without test scores, and if anyone is willing to challenge them," Stenoff said.

Past coverage: Appeals court overturns Leon County judge ruling on Florida third-grade retention law | Lawyers outline venue arguments in Florida third-grade retention case

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