Florida is flunking third graders who test at the 50th percentile in reading, because they just missed the 51st. The New York Times’ Michael Winerip blames “rigidity” for the expected results: 15 percent of Florida’s third graders won’t be promoted to fourth grade.
If you get to the end of the story, you’ll see that Florida isn’t all that rigid. The anecdotal victim, Derek, flunked FCAT and just missed on a nationally standardized test. But he can be promoted based on a “portfolio assessment,” that is, an analysis of his schoolwork showing evidence that he can read well enough to succeed in fourth grade. Almost certainly, the principal will promote him. The system also exempts students who don’t speak English and disabled students.
In essence, this whole story is an unacknowledged correction of a May 21 Winerip piece, which said students get only one chance to pass FCAT, and that the judgment of teachers and principals is ignored. As I wrote, that isn’t true. Winerip didn’t seem to know that students could go to summer school and pass a different test to be promoted, nor did he mention that the teacher and principal could use the portfolio option to pass a student with poor test scores.
Winerip is still ignoring the options schools can use to help retained students catch up. As I wrote in May, schools can assign held-back students to a “pre-fourth-grade” class or a third/fourth grade combination class that allows students who improve their reading to be promoted mid-year to fourth grade.
Derek’s principal is grouping the retained third graders in the same class. My guess is they’ll get special instruction to help them catch up, rather than a rehash of third grade curriculum. Isn’t that a better plan than letting them fail fourth grade because they can’t read the books?
As Kimberly Swigert writes, most of the retained students almost certainly are way behind, not just one question from making the cut on test scores alone. In fact, the principal says that most students were too far behind to catch up in four weeks of summer “reading camp.” Derek and the other anecdote, Raven, are not the norm.
Teacher Betsy Newmark adds:
The problem is that when there is principal or teacher discretion, there is tremendous pressure to pass the child. I’ve sat in on some of those conferences. If the principal suspects that there will be any complaints from the parents, he or she will pass the child rather than deal with the hassle of having to defend his decision.
Under Florida’s old discretionary system, almost nobody was held back.