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When a third grade student in Florida fails the FSA, or opts out of the FSA, they will need a Good Cause Exemption to be promoted to the fourth grade. Parents will need to work with their child’s school to make that happen. The Alternative Assessments allowed by the State for a Good Cause Exemption can be another test, but it can also be a portfolio; a TRUE portfolio, not a battery of secret mini-tests from Florida’s Item Bank and Test Platform.

Kevin Foster is a Lake County father and Administrator for Opt Out Lake County, who opts his child out of the FSA. As a result of advocating for Lake County to include a true portfolio in the district’s Student Progression Plan (SPP), the Lake County SPP now includes language (just one phrase) that supports the use of a true portfolio, for a Good Cause Exemption. A TRUE portfolio is a collection of your child’s work throughout the school year. 

Some districts already include this language in their SPP, but some do not. Some districts, which have true portfolio language (which comes directly from Florida Statute) in their SPP, do not comply with that SPP. Only parents can hold their feet to the fire.

Here’s what Kevin shared:

After several unproductive meetings with various Lake County School District administrative officials, my wife and I were invited by Superintendent Kornegay to sit down for a discussion regarding the Portfolio option as a Good Cause Exemption from 3rd Grade Mandatory Retention.  We discussed a wide range of topics including participating, but minimally, in the FSA, DOE Rule 6A-1.094221, and the results of the (then recently decided) lawsuit by 3rd Grade parents against the State and several school districts.

We explained our view that opting out, or minimal participation (signing the test and pushing it away without answering any questions), satisfied the statutory requirement that all students participate in FSA testing.  

We also pointed out that there was a key part of Rule 6A-1.094221 that was seemingly being ignored by everyone, which stated that, “chapter and unit tests from the district’s/school’s adopted core reading curriculum could be used as part of the portfolio.”

We also explained our view, that it was a waste of precious instructional time to remove a child from the classroom in order to give them a battery of mini-tests from Florida’s Item Bank and Test Platform.

And, we pointed out that the (then) recent Appeals Court ruling against parents answered a key question about who has the final say on promotion to 4th grade.  The Court said it was the Superintendent (not the FLDOE).  We explained that this meant that the process was intended to be a bottom-up thing, rather than a top-down thing, and that teachers and principals should be allowed to make a recommendation for promotion if they believe the student deserves to be promoted.

At the end of that meeting, Supt. Kornegay asked me directly, “What do you want me to do?”

I replied, “I want you to put this specific language about the portfolio from FLDOE Rule 6A-1.094221 into the Lake County 3rd Grade Progression Plan.” 

It said (referring to the portfolio Good Cause Exemption), “Such evidence could be selected from… chapter and unit tests from the district’s/schools’s adopted core reading curriculum.”  This may seem like a small thing, but it’s not.

The very next time that the Progression Plan was up for a vote before the School Board, that language was included in the draft version, and the Board voted to approve it.  It’s been there ever since.  (You can find it on Page 36 of the Lake County Progression Plan which can be downloaded here.

You can also find it on pages 2-3 of the FLDOE Promotion to Grade 4 Technical Assistance Paper

Why is this important? 

Well…  the Chapter and Unit Tests are the work that your child does throughout the school year.  It’s a true portfolio.  If your child does well on those chapter and unit tests throughout the year, there should be no (or very little) need to remove them from class to create a portfolio based on the Florida Item Bank and Test Platform.  Some of those Item Bank mini-tests may still be necessary in order to round out your child’s portfolio if they don’t have all 3 examples of each of the 22 standards.  (Also, keep in mind that they must score at least a 70 for each of those to count as a valid example.)

What if your school insists that they will not start a portfolio for your child until AFTER the FSA has been administered? 

As I see it, you have two options.  You can either educate yourself about the standards and attempt to collect the portfolio items yourself as they come home from school with your child, or…  you could lean on this specific note from the top of Page 37 in the Progression Plan. It’s also in the FLDOE TAP with Rule 6A-1.094221 and Florida Statute cited.

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

If you write a letter to your school principal announcing your intention to opt-out/minimally participate in the FSA, that act alone should immediately “identify” your child as “being at risk of retention,” since retention is mandatory without a passing grade on the FSA. I cannot guarantee that this part of the process will work, but if you think about it, it makes a certain amount of sense.  Be prepared to fight for that “at risk” identification. 

The sooner you write that letter, the better.

If your child’s teacher agrees to develop a portfolio, you should request to examine it from time to time to make sure it’s being maintained. Parents in other districts have been told that a portfolio would be developed, only to find at the end of the year that it was not. You do not want to get to the end of the year and not have that portfolio documenting your child’s proficiency of the standards.

You should also be prepared to compile the portfolio yourself.  If you find yourself in this position, you’ll need to make sure that every “chapter and unit test” which is graded gets sent home to you for your collection.  Every one of those “chapter and unit tests” should include a notation regarding which standards are being assessed.  Note also that a single question may provide for more than one example, and for more than one standard. (Remember, 3 examples of each of the 22 standards are required.)  The sooner you get started compiling the portfolio, the better.

One final reminder:  I cannot guarantee that this will work.  But, it is the process that I envisioned when I asked Supt. Kornegay to add that specific language to our progression plan.  

Remember that opting out is an act of civil disobedience intended to challenge/change the current system. It requires courage and tenacity, but…. if successful, you will have blazed a trail for others to follow.

Good luck.

“The statewide, standardized English Language Arts assessment is not the sole determiner of promotion and that additional evaluations, portfolio reviews, and assessments are available to the child to assist parents and the school district in knowing when a child is reading at or above grade level and ready for grade promotion.”
(Section 1008.25(5)(c)6, F.S.)

– Sample Letter to Request a 3rd Grade Portfolio
– Statutory Third Grade Portfolio Checklist
– Student Portfolio Puts Assessment Where It Belongs… With Teachers
– Third Grade Portfolio Checklist – Working Document (updated 8/22/18)
– Third Grade Portfolio Instructions 
– Special Opt Out group for Third Grade Parents – for help, peer support and strategies to find fair and useful assessment for promotion