The State Board of Education (SBE) was asking questions about third grade retention policies. The general understanding was that students who scored a ‘level 1’ on the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) would be retained unless there was a good cause exemption.
There is more to this than meets the eye.
In 2014-15, due to the transition to the new FSA standards, there were no score performance levels. Instead, the lowest scoring 20% of students were identified, and their promotion was determined by the districts. The state retention of third graders dropped by one half. This past year, the performance levels were used and many more third graders were retained.
What was not discussed at the meeting were the procedures used to retain students who minimally participated in the test by breaking the test seal and writing their names. These children did not respond to the test questions and were retained even though their grades and performance showed that they were competent and ready to move on to fourth grade. This is the subject of the current lawsuit ruling by Judge Giever that the State of Florida has appealed.
The big issue is whether the legislature in the upcoming session will give districts more flexibility on deciding which students are retained. If and how the legislature reacts to the districts’ policies on how current law is implemented will be important to watch. Several districts singled out students who ‘opted out’ of the FSA and did not follow established procedures to allow portfolios or other options to demonstrate competence. Nor did they notify parents as they are required to do.
No doubt the federal requirement for 95% of students to sit state assessments is behind these decisions. In some states, significant numbers of students have chosen not to sit for state assessments. Whether or not the U.S. Department of Education can and will penalize states who post fewer than 95% participation rates will attract national attention and perhaps congressional action.
Regardless of federal policy, Florida is not required to retain third graders and is one of the few states that does. It makes Florida look good on the fourth grade National Assessment for Educational Progress because the lowest twenty percent of students aren’t in fourth grade. Looking good at the national level is not good for kids at the local level.