by: Jeffrey Solocheck, Tampa Bay Times|April 4, 2016
Parents of third graders across Florida have raised loud complaints lately that their school administrators and teachers have threatened their children with retention if they don’t pass the Florida Standards Assessment or an alternate test.
District officials say they’re sticking to state law, which says:
“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.”
A Florida Department of Education spokeswoman, however, stressed that the test score alone “never” is used to determine a student’s promotion. Press secretary Alix Miller pointed to the same law, which sets forth several good cause exemptions for retention. She also noted that education commissioner Pam Stewart has made the point for nearly a year, as parents questioned the validity of the FSA in its first administration.
In a memo sent out in September, the department stated:
“In Florida, statewide standardized tests are never used as the sole determinant of promotion or graduation decisions. This is evidenced by the fact that when the department released the grade 3 bottom quintile list and grade 10 English Language Arts assessment and the Algebra I end-of-course assessment passing lists to superintendents in June, Commissioner Stewart emphasized that there are other performance measures that districts should consider when making these decisions and other avenues for student advancement.”
One of those measures is a portfolio, which, according to law, parents can ask teachers to begin preparing immediately after their third grader is identified as being at risk of retention. State rule says a portfolio must, among other things, “Be an organized collection of evidence of the student’s mastery of the Language Arts Florida Standards that are assessed by the Grade 3 statewide English Language Arts assessment. For each standard, there must be at least three (3) examples of mastery as demonstrated by a grade of seventy (70) percent or above on each example.”
The hang up, it appears, is that the law and rule seem to suggest a student must have a test score to qualify for the portfolio option. Asked whether that is the case, Miller reiterated, “Promotion decisions have always been made at the district level, and student performance on the statewide assessment is one factor that districts consider when determining whether a student is prepared for fourth grade.”
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