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Many parents and teachers believe that Florida Statute says that without a documented reading deficiency, a satisfactory report card should suffice for promotion from third grade to fourth. Retention is (supposed to be) a remedy for a reading deficiency (not punishment for opting out). Although it shouldn’t be, promotion to the Fourth Grade in Florida can be a mysterious thing. If there must be an assessment used to promote a child, then a portfolio is the assessment of choice.

At yesterday’s Orange County Public Schools board meeting, Joshua Katz addressed the successful promotion of his daughter to the Fourth Grade – without a test score.  That’s right. A third grader in Orange County, Florida was promoted to the 4th grade based, not on any standardized test score, but on a portfolio.

This video is confirmation that Third Graders CAN be promoted, WITH an authentic portfolio. TO BE CLEAR – by portfolio, I mean a portfolio in the true definition of the word – a collection of a student’s actual work, representing 180 days of real teaching and real learning. This is confirmation that students CAN be promoted WITHOUT a test score and WITHOUT the series of 42 separate mini-FSA tests the DOE calls a “portfolio.”

A real portfolio, however… that’s officially a thing. A good thing.

Here is the full text of Joshua Katz’ address:

I come to you tonight as a parent and only a parent in OCPS. Two of my three children are enrolled in elementary school.  I have two rules for my children when it comes to school –

Rule #1: LEARN
Rule #2: HAVE FUN.  

This started two years ago when I asked Abigail, “How was your day at school?”

She said, “I was on green.”  

Her entire day at school was dependent upon an adult’s subjective assessment of her behavior.  It tore me up.  So, I sought to protect my children from school in order to ensure that they had an education, and I made up my “Two Rules.”

Rule #1: Learn

Rule #2: Have Fun.  

I would then allow everything that is good and right in education to work, and I would fight against anything wrong in education.  

Abigail just completed her Third Grade year with a straight A average (and straight O’s too).  She knows full well what we all know: that the Florida Standardized Assessment Program has no place in this process we were born with: to learn and have fun doing it.

On the evening of the last day of school on June 8, after several attempts for closure at an earlier time, I received the phone call and the e-mail that Abigail was to be retained in the Third Grade.  And I was ready.  

Over the past three years, I have been one of many parents who have attempted to fight what is wrong in education.  Many parents have spoken to you about this fight.  Many parents have invited you to join this fight.  Over the past three years we have heard the same argument: that is state law, that we must fight Tallahassee, that it’s not up to you, and that as some of you have said repeatedly “that we cannot interpret state statute (go to 7:10 on video link).” 

And then, two weeks ago, the Florida Department of Education (as they threw the school districts under the bus) made it crystal clear that we, the parents who have been fighting for the past three years, were not the ones interpreting state statue.  The parents that have addressed you over the past few years, and especially over the past few weeks, have NOT INTERPRETED state statute.  We simply READ them.  They are CLEAR to us.  It has been the DOE, it has been the districts, and it has been the schools that were INTERPRETING the state statutes all along, NOT US.  For example,  I had tried unsuccessfully all year to convince the teacher and principal that a “teacher-created portfolio” actually existed.  The district even discounted this truth until the DOE reaffirmed it recently.  And even though the statute clearly says it is signed off by the teacher and the principal (see page 6, B-3, 5th bullet point), I was still communicating with upper level district administrators regarding Abigail’s classwork for the year.  Even to the very end, it was not me interpreting statute. I simply read it.  It is clear. 

And now, because of the hard work of her teacher, the patience of her principal, a few special people here tonight, and because of our commitment to Justice (just read any e-mail I send),  Abigail, my Straight A Student, who LOVES LEARNING, and fights for what is right in education, is to be promoted to the 4th Grade. 

It took a lot of back and forth, it took far too much stubbornness on my part, but we did it. This fight has enabled me to give my children something that not many of my colleagues, leaders, or other adults have:  COURAGE; the courage to fight for something that is right.  

I will continue to fight for what is right in education, protecting a student’s love of learning, protecting the teacher’s professionalism and authority, and I am extremely proud that my children are fighting alongside of me.  

Thank you.

Joshua A. Katz

Joshua Katz is a parent, a high school math teacher and a vocal advocate for public education. He blogs about education at Greater When Heard and you can see more of his advocacy work in these videos:

The Best Thing… Ever
TedX talk: The Toxic Culture of Education