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by Sandy Stenoff

At the last Seminole County School Board meeting, parents and teachers provided input about the Third Grade lawsuit, involving Seminole County students. After Jodi Parham read for Rhonda Nickerson (at 58:00), the board stated (at 1:01:35) that they would typically not accept public comments about pending litigation. The attorney for SCPS provided a brief update on the lawsuit to the board (at 1:02:05).

My speech was cut short (Video from 1:04:15 to 1:06:58).

The next day, I sent my complete address, with references, to the board to be entered into the record:

Dear Drs. Calderone and Griffin, 
Thank you for the opportunity to address you yesterday evening.  Had I been permitted to complete my statement, this is what I would have shared with you. While I do understand that the district may not be able to comment publicly on pending litigation, I would put forth, respectfully, that the public certainly has the right to provide comment – of course, with no expectation that the board would respond publicly. I sincerely hope that you will give this serious consideration. Other districts have successfully worked with parents in the lawsuit. 

I appreciate that this will be added to the record of yesterday’s meeting. Thank you for your consideration.

Sandy Stenoff


I’m here today, because of two proficient children from Seminole in the lawsuit, who are still officially retained in the third grade simply because they have no test score, against the Judge’s order and against Florida education statutes.

The parents requested early in the school year to have a portfolio compiled, as the law allows. The state statute as well as numerous publications from the DOE state:

“A parent of a student in grade 3 who is identified anytime during the school year as being at risk of retention may request that the school immediately begin collecting evidence for the portfolio.”

They were denied.

I believe there must be a disconnect in the district’s understanding of what a portfolio is. State statute, FLDOE TAP reports and Just Read Florida state that “Portfolio Evidence is to include multiple choice items.”

Nowhere does it say that a portfolio must be made up exclusively of multiple choice test items.  A real portfolio, which meets the state guidelines, as Sarina Nickerson’s portfolio does, is without question, a more through and rigorous measure of her teacher’s and this district’s accountability than any single test.  It should be held up as an example for all. Instead, it is dismissed, as was this student’s educational rights.

Currently, Sarina must be homeschooled for her own protection from the actions of this district.  Fortunately for her, her family is able to do this. Camryn Weaver is not so lucky. She is gifted, and reads above the 6th grade level. She is in 4th grade math, but 3rd grade for everything else. The law dictates strict parameters for how a retained student must be remediated. If that were happening for Camryn Weaver, she would not be repeating third grade work right now. That she is in 4th grade math tells me that the district has the authority to be flexible. It was also the district’s legal option to place her in a 4th grade class, pending a mid year promotion, but that is not happening either (See References – Attached is an e-mail excerpt from the FLDOE to Senator Darren Soto attesting that this is an acceptable course of action).

Her mother tells me that Camryn now says things like, “I’m just stupid.” (I did not state this at the meeting, as Camryn was in the audience, but it is what she now says, where she never did before.)What have we become when children need protection from public education?

I have watched every minute of the 9-hour evidentiary hearing and I have read Judge Gievers’ 53-page ruling numerous times.  In a nutshell, the judge’s ruling overwhelmingly found for the plaintiffs – the main points being:

– That they had the right to request a teacher-compiled portfolio over one based on tests – Page 19 Item 32 *

– Promotion is not to be based solely on a test or tests. Page 13, Item 18 **

– Districts are ordered to stop refusing to allow a portfolio Page 14, Item 19 ***

And finally, regarding the automatic stay as a result of the district appealing the venue, from the Tampa Bay Times – Sept 13:

Judge Gievers:

“To the extent that the evidence and law warranted the provision of injunctive relief as to the State Education Defendants and the School Board of Hernando County, the automatic stay of the order as to the challenged injunctive relief *does not authorize the Defendants to ignore the mandatory provisions of the statutes in question*.”

Research consistently shows that students are better off being promoted and provided the intervention and support they need. The short term gains in improved test scores in the 4th grade, are outstripped by the long-term harm of retention. I ask you to consider this for each child as you go forward. By law, retention decisions are never supposed to be made on the sole basis of a test score, but that is exactly what has happened to these children. Parents are supposed to be included in these decisions. If the children are simply collateral damage, please ask yourselves, To what end?

I have met with some of you personally and I believe you when you say that, as a district, you put children and teachers first. You have said that your hands were tied because you were obligated to follow the law. The Judge’s court order has untied them now.  Just a year and a half ago, when the law about minimal participation was unclear, you led the way with your courageous decisions to treat children ethically and with respect (here and here). Districts across the state followed your lead. The law is clear now. Courage is not required, only the will to do right by these children.

Please restore our trust that this district puts children first.

It isn’t part of the educator’s creed to “First do no harm”, but it should be.

I will leave you with this quote from over 2,400 years ago by Aristotle:
“What it lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do.”


10/22/16 – Ft Lauderdale Sun Times
Broward promotes twins who opted out of state test
08/11/16 Sarsota Herald Tribune
Sarasota School District relents, advances 3rd grade student

Judge Gievers’ 53-page ruling from Aug 26 2016: http://goo.gl/aeFvOL

* Page 19, Item 32 The Plaintiff may pursue administrative proceedings regarding her preference for a teacher-compiled portfolio based on school work completed in the year to one based on standards assessment testing, if she wishes.

** Page 13, Item 18 The School Board and State Education Defendants had no right to ignore the legislatively adopted portfolio option. No statute limits promotion to grade 4 solely to tests; the Legislature has made clear that the portfolio option is an alternate option that is still available to all of Florida’s children. Section 1008.25(5}, Florida Statutes.

*** Page 14, Item 19 Accordingly, the Hernando County School Board is ORDERED to immediately refrain from further actions contrary to the availability of the portfolio option, and is ORDERED to immediately provide the portfolio option, at minimum, to any parent who has requested one or who requests one going forward.

Pages 5-6: http://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/7539/urlt/2013thirdgradeprogressiontap.pdf


B-1. Why would a teacher use a student portfolio?
Section 1008.25(6)(b)4., F.S., states that a student who scores a Level 1 on the grade 3 statewide FSA-ELA may be promoted to fourth grade if the student demonstrates through a student portfolio that the student is performing at least at Level 2 on the statewide standardized assessment.

B-2. When should the teacher and students begin the third-grade student portfolio?
A parent of a student in grade 3 who is identified anytime during the school year as being at risk of retention may request that the school immediately begin collecting evidence for the portfolio.

B-3.  Are there guidelines provided by the state for the third-grade student portfolio?
Yes. As provided in the updated Rule 6A-1.094221, F.A.C., to be accepted as meeting the portfolio option for demonstrating mastery of the required reading skills, the student portfolio must:

•Be selected by the student’s teacher;
•Be an accurate picture of the student’s ability and only include student work that has been independently produced in the classroom;
•Include evidence that the standards assessed by the grade 3 statewide English Language Arts assessment have been met. Evidence is to include multiple choice items and passages that are approximately 60 percent literary text and 40 percent information text that are between 100-700 words with an average of 500 words. Such evidence could include chapter or unit tests from the district’s/school’s adopted core reading curriculum that are aligned with the Language Arts Florida Standards or teacher-prepared assessments;
•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 examples of mastery as demonstrated by a grade of 70 percent or above on each example; and
•Be signed by the teacher and the principal as an accurate assessment of the required reading skills. Additionally, note that the Just Read, Florida! Office has begun creating an updated Third- Grade State Portfolio.

B-4.  Do the same portfolio guidelines apply to ESE students?
Yes. The state portfolio guidelines apply to all students, including ESE students.

B-5.  Is the student portfolio the only tool used for good cause exemption and/or promoting a third-grade student to fourth grade in the middle of the year?
No. The student portfolio and an alternative assessment are the two state-approved options for good cause exemption and mid-year promotion. The student must be offered both options. However, the student must only demonstrate proficiency on one of the options in order to receive a good cause exemption or be promoted midyear.

B-6.  If a teacher is monitoring the progress of a student, is a portfolio needed?
Yes. A portfolio provides ongoing information on how a student is performing on tested benchmarks. There are specific requirements of necessary elements that must be included in a portfolio used for promotion (please refer to question B-3 of this document for the requirements). If a teacher chooses to follow the rigor of the state portfolio requirements, a portfolio may be used for progress monitoring as well as promotion.


Excerpt of e-mail from Suzan Shaw at FLDOE to Senator Darren Soto – July 12, 2016
asserting that 4th grade placement with mid-year promotion is an allowable option.

Page 10: http://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/7539/urlt/2013thirdgradeprogressiontap.pdf

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 to implement a mid-year promotion, will the district adhere to the letter of the law here (below), as it pertains to students retained without any documented reading deficiency? And – Is this happening for ALL students who have been retained?

F.S. 1008.25(7)

(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. (Camryn Weaver has no reading deficiency. Wekiva Elementary has already demonstarted that she reads at near 7th grade level)

(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.

4. 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. (In order to be in compliance, the district would have to expect Camryn Weaver to achieve reading at the 8th grade level by year end.)

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.

SCPS FSA Q & A 022515 (2014-2015)
State portfolio guidelines are clearly outlined here as well.