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by Sandy Stenoff

Since the filing of the lawsuit by the parents of retained Third Grade students this week, The Opt Out Florida Network has been contacted by more parents of retained Third Grade students. School began today in many Florida districts and more will begin on Monday.

Parents who have been notified of third grade retention – for various reasons, are contacting us for help and information.  Does anyone wonder why parents aren’t contacting their districts for help? I will hazard a guess and say that if districts were receiving the appropriate guidance from the state, there would be no lawsuit. But since that is clearly not the case…

Districts face a dilemma for how to meet the needs of the students who demonstrate NO reading deficiency, but who also did not meet the state’s testing criteria for promotion. The young students’ educational needs dictate that they must be provided with an appropriate fourth grade education, yet they are not allowed to be placed, officially, in the fourth grade.

What can parents expect from their principals?

What options are available to these families that will meet the children’s needs?

In a number of districts, proficient third grade students, who failed the FSA, are being placed provisionally, in a fourth grade classroom, based on satisfactory report cards, which document that they are capable of moving to the next level in the fourth grade. This is being done with the understanding that the children are working toward mid-year promotion, as the law allows.

But, wait… there’s more.

While this is better than retention, this would be a lateral promotion, as opposed to a literal one, without the official title of “Fourth Grade student.”

In the workforce, a “lateral promotion” is often seen as a promotion in name only – no perks, no bennies, no raise. A non-promotion promotion. Everyone knows what it means. Just the meaningless title and maybe some extra responsibility to go along with being appeased with a non-promotion promotion. In this case, the meaningless title would be “provisionally promoted,” or something that has the word promoted in it, but which clearly denotes “temporary” status.

With such a placement, the child would remain vulnerable to having his non-promotion promotion stripped. Even if your child is placed in a fourth grade class, pending approval of a mid-year promotion, the threat of retention would remain. He can still be sent back to the third grade, even though he met the standards for promotion, which his report card proves.

From the August 9, 2016 Tampa Bay Times,

Florida school districts remind principals about mid-year promotion for retained third graders

“As retained Florida third graders return to school this week and next, district leaders are reminding principals and teachers that the children still may move up to fourth grade after classes resume.”

Certain districts have, in fact, been practicing placement of retained children in a 4th grade instructional setting (4th grade classroom), contingent on the student meeting the state’s criteria for mid-year promotion.  This is really just a “work around” for the districts, it helps them to meet the students’ educational needs, while the district is also able to say that the students are not yet promoted. It’s semantics. Which is the very reason for the lawsuit. These children should not be retained in the first place, on paper, or otherwise.

From Just Read Florida:

WHAT IS THE MEANING AND PURPOSE OF RETENTION?

Retention does not mean that the child has failed. It does not mean that teachers or parents are not working hard enough. It does mean that the child needs more instructional time and help to catch up and reach reading proficiency. The purpose of retention is to give children who have substantial reading deficiencies more time and the intensive instruction they need to catch up in reading.

 

Additionally, here is an e-mail excerpt from the FLDOE to State Senator Darren Soto (D-14) confirming that this is a permissible course of action:

image1Specifically, as it concerns children, who are retained, but who lack a documented reading deficiency:

The state has the duty to provide appropriate education, therefore the forced repeating of third grade curriculum would be educationally inappropriate. If the students are actually placed in a 3rd grade class, while they are supposed to be working towards mid-year promotion, they will need to be exposed to 4th grade standards as well. If they were not, that would be inappropriate educational instruction, for these children.

From the FL DOE Technical Assistance Paper Third-Grade Student Progression – Oct. 24, 2013 (Page 10)

  • E-3.  Can a third-grade student, potentially eligible for mid-year promotion, be placed in a fourth-grade classroom and then promoted after demonstrating proficiency on the portfolio or an alternative assessment?
    Districts need to meet the individual needs of students. This can be achieved through implementing creative multi-age grouping or a transitional-classroom setting.
  • E-4.  Why would a decision be made about a student’s placement during the first semester of the academic year?
    Students should be promoted midyear or as soon as possible so they receive essential fourth- grade instruction. For example, if a student has attended a Summer Reading Camp and demonstrated mastery of all benchmarks but one, the student could show proficiency in the deficit benchmark and then be promoted to fourth grade. Any student meeting specified state requirements may be promoted midyear.
  • E-5.  How many samples of proficiency are required for each benchmark in order for a student to be promoted midyear?
    In any given school year, a student must have three examples of each benchmark successfully completed on the third-grade level, with a score of 70 percent or above on each example, in order to be promoted midyear. Rule 6A-1.094222, F.A.C. 

Failing that, will the districts adhere to the letter of the law here, as it pertains to students retained without any documented reading deficiency?

The 2015 Florida Statutes
Title XLVIII – K-20 EDUCATION CODE
Chapter 1008 – ASSESSMENT AND ACCOUNTABILITY
F.S. 1008.25(7)

(7) SUCCESSFUL PROGRESSION FOR RETAINED THIRD GRADE STUDENTS. —
(a) Students retained under the provisions of paragraph (5)(b) must be provided intensive interventions in reading to ameliorate the student’s specific reading deficiency, as identified by a valid and reliable diagnostic assessment. This intensive intervention must include effective instructional strategies, participation in the school district’s summer reading camp, and appropriate teaching methodologies necessary to assist those students in becoming successful readers, able to read at or above grade level, and ready for promotion to the next grade.

(b) Each school district shall:
1. Provide third grade students who are retained under the provisions of paragraph (5)(b) with intensive instructional services and supports to remediate the identified areas of reading deficiency, including participation in the school district’s summer reading camp as required under paragraph (a) and a minimum of 90 minutes of daily, uninterrupted, scientifically research-based reading instruction which includes phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension and other strategies prescribed by the school district, which may include, but are not limited to:


a. Integration of science and social studies content within the 90-minute block.

b. Small group instruction.

c. Reduced teacher-student ratios.

d. More frequent progress monitoring.

e. Tutoring or mentoring.

f. Transition classes containing 3rd and 4th grade students.

g. Extended school day, week, or year.

2. Provide written notification to the parent of a student who is retained under the provisions of paragraph (5)(b) that his or her child has not met the proficiency level required for promotion and the reasons the child is not eligible for a good cause exemption as provided in paragraph (6)(b). The notification must comply with the provisions of s. 1002.20(15) and must include a description of proposed interventions and supports that will be provided to the child to remediate the identified areas of reading deficiency.

3. Implement a policy for the midyear promotion of a student retained under the provisions of paragraph (5)(b) who can demonstrate that he or she is a successful and independent reader and performing at or above grade level in reading or, upon implementation of English Language Arts assessments, performing at or above grade level in English Language Arts. Tools that school districts may use in reevaluating a student retained may include subsequent assessments, alternative assessments, and portfolio reviews, in accordance with rules of the State Board of Education. Students promoted during the school year after November 1 must demonstrate proficiency levels in reading equivalent to the level necessary for the beginning of grade

4. The rules adopted by the State Board of Education must include standards that provide a reasonable expectation that the student’s progress is sufficient to master appropriate grade 4 level reading skills. Provide students who are retained under the provisions of paragraph (5)(b) with a highly effective teacher as determined by the teacher’s performance evaluation under s. 1012.34.


5. Establish at each school, when applicable, an Intensive Acceleration Class for retained grade 3 students who subsequently score Level 1 on the required statewide, standardized assessment identified in s. 1008.22. The focus of the Intensive Acceleration Class shall be to increase a child’s reading and English Language Arts skill level at least two grade levels in 1 school year. The Intensive Acceleration Class shall:

a. Be provided to a student in grade 3 who scores Level 1 on the statewide, standardized English Language Arts assessment, and who was retained in grade 3 the prior year, because of scoring Level 1.
b. Have a reduced teacher-student ratio.
c. Provide uninterrupted reading instruction for the majority of student contact time each day and incorporate opportunities to master the grade 4 Next Generation Sunshine State Standards in other core subject areas.
d. Use a reading program that is scientifically research-based and has proven results in accelerating student reading achievement within the same school year.
e. Provide intensive language and vocabulary instruction using a scientifically research-based program, including use of a speech-language therapist.

Children with no documented reading deficiency should not be subjected to retention simply because districts are unable or unwilling to seek out and find the best solutions, that are WITHIN THE LAW, for each child.

Parents seeking guidance about these alternative pathways to promotion are urged to contact their principals and District Superintendents to see how their child may access this established path to the Fourth Grade. It is a temporary fix, at best, a band-aid. But it would allow the children to get their basic educational needs met, while the adults work toward a permanent solution, which will hopefully come, with a final decision from the Court.

Contact information for all District Superintendents may be found here: http://www.fldoe.org/accountability/data-sys/school-dis-data/superintendents.stml

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