Category Archives: Third Grade Retention

Parents, YOU are the Boss… and you can say NO.

(This post has been updated to include information from the FL DOE, reported in the Tampa Bay Times May 1, 2015)

Across the state of Florida, some parents of rising fourth graders are being informed that their child is being retained in the third grade because their FSA scores were in the bottom quintile (20%) of the state – no matter what that score may be. Some are being promoted, but are assigned to remedial reading class, often unnecessarily.  Some middle and high school students are being made to sacrifice electives for remedial or Intensive Reading/Math.

In the absence of a valid FSA score, schools are making these critical decisions based on the data they have, which may be from progress monitoring tests, such as Achieve 3000 or Discovery Ed, etc. You may not even be aware that your child has been taking other standardized tests besides the FSA and classroom tests. Well, now you know. Some are even using FCAT scores from TWO years ago!  How valid is THAT?!!  In other words, districts have had to improvise in the face of no real guidance from the state, with little consistency from one district to the next. This is meaningless. If every student passed the test, there would still be a bottom 20% of those passing students, to whom a test would say, “You failed.” Children are being retained and remediated, regardless of what their actual scores are – in spite of the fact that the FSA validity report is not due back to the state until Sept. 1, 2015.

This is happening in certain districts and within those districts, only in certain schools.

But why is this happening and why is it happening so inconsistently?

From POLITICO Florida –

Schools in ‘holding pattern’ while they await testing study

Since state law requires the tests be used in determining whether third graders are promoted, the state Department of Education released to schools the lowest quintile of third graders’ scores,

those “at risk” of retention. The department also alerted schools where students passed ninth-grade  English and algebra exams, which are graduation requirements.

For other grades, districts may choose whether to use the test scores in promotion decisions. Stakeholder groups said schools had to move forward without the scores…

Vince Verges, assistant deputy education commissioner for accountability, research and measurement, said it will be up to districts what to do with the results.

From the Tampa Bay Times article, Florida education department clarifies rules on student retention…

The Florida Department of Education issued its notes from an April 29 conference call, in which it aimed to explain the current state of affairs to superintendents. Here’s what it said:

Regarding third grade English Language Arts, it is clearly stated in the bill that we will determine the students who are in the bottom quintile to produce a list of students statewide who are at risk of retention. We will provide to each district their students that are in the statewide bottom quintile. The list will then be disaggregated by districts and provided to each of you as an alphabetical list of your students. You will receive the names of your students only, who are in the bottom quintile of the state. We will not be providing the percentile associated with each student, as that would be inappropriate when we consider that the scores have not been through all validity checks. 

The law indicates that the list is to be provided for consideration by the district to then determine whether or not they will retain the student [emphasis added] or use other means as outlined in s. 1008.25(6)(b), F.S., for grade placement in either third or fourth grade and to be considered with other information that the district has for each student to provide supports for success in fourth grade. The statute is clear that for this year of transition the districts will notify parents and provide evidence.

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House  Bill 7069 states: 

“Each student who does not achieve a Level 3 or above on the statewide, standardized English Language Arts assessment….must be evaluated to determine the nature of the student’s difficulty, the area of academic need, and strategies for providing academic supports to improve the student’s performance.”

1) It does not say that all students scoring below a level 3 will be placed in remedial reading class. 
2) Remedial reading class is not an evaluation.
3) At this time scores have not been released…. no 1,2, 3, etc.
4) If your student has been put into remedial reading, without just cause, and you don’t feel it would benefit your child…..SAY NO.

Confusion and misapplication of the law is happening because districts have been left to decide for themselves, what to do about the children who were flagged for being in the bottom quintile – no matter what their actual scores are – Do we promote, retain or remediate them?

In spite of decades of solid research by child development and education experts, which overwhelmingly conclude that third grade retention is not only not beneficial for children, but is, in fact, harmful, the Florida legislature chose to maintain this draconian policy. Current research shows that retention is harmful, not only for children in the third grade, but in all elementary grades.

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The ultimate decision for ANY class placement for your child rests with YOU, the parent. Your consent is required. And you don’t have to give it. It doesn’t matter if you are told that your child’s retention or remediation was a state, district or school decision.

You can simply say, “No.”

If you don’t want your child remediated, DON’T give your consent or permission for the school to do so. It may not be easy to do this with your school, but it really is that simple.  If you get resistance from your school, KEEP CALM and remember that YOU are the final authority on the education of YOUR child.  

You may wish to respectfully ask for the statutory citation mandating retention or remediation on the basis of this test score, at this time. They will not be able to do so… because it does not exist.  

If you are told that your child is being retained because he/she needs intervention, you can insist that your child be promoted and also be provided the appropriate intervention(s), which may require a 504 or an IEP (Individual Education Plan).  According to the preponderance of serious research, this practice is considered the best approach by veteran educators, education researchers, and developmental psychologists.  These are not decisions to be made lightly. These decisions should never be made on the basis of a single test score, which denotes only a snapshot of a single moment in time.  Any decisions about promotion, retention or remediation should be made thoughtfully with the team of parents, teachers, administrators and guidance counselors.  

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This document below is an example of a common sense decision made at the school level. It affirms that the decision is parents’ to make. Kudos to the school leadership for supporting their students and for empowering parents.

Lake Nona MS letter

I must confess to secretly doing a happy dance because the folks at Lake Nona Middle School named their document, “Intensive Reading Opt Out Contract“… 😉

This post is written by Sandy Stenoff.

Parent Resources:

  1. Additional information and support for Third Grade can be found at the Opt Out Florida Third Grade group.
  2. Statewide information and support is available in the Opt Out Orlando Facebook group.
  3. A support network for your district may be found here.

Notable research on the practice of third grade retention:

  1. Grade Retention – Info for Parents by Jimerson
  2. Grade Retention – Guide for Parents by Jimerson
  3. Grade Retention & Promotion- Guide for Educators by Jimerson Renshaw Skokut
  4. Grade Retention – Fact sheet by Jimerson
  5. Grade Retention’s Negative Effects – Ineffective and possibly harmful
  6. Alternatives to grade retention- Jimerson Pletcher Kerr
  7. 10 Strategies to Fight Mandatory Retention – by Sue Whitney for Wrightslaw
  8. New Research Suggests Repeating Elementary Grades – even Kindergarten – is Harmful

 


An 8-year Old Talks About Test Prep

By Sandy Stenoff

Thank you to Valerie Strauss for featuring this piece in the Washington Post.

Until last year, I had shielded my, then, eight year old daughter from my activism, my personal convictions about high stakes testing and why I believe it is harmful to her education.  In spite of helping to start the Opt Out Orlando group locally and all of my involvement in the national grassroots movement against market-based education reform, with just a few months to go before testing season last year and even with all the information I had, I STILL had not made the decision to personally opt out of testing for my daughter in the Third grade.

One night before testing season started last year, I was putting her to bed. It had been a really stressful week. Usually an even-tempered child, she had been having meltdowns like she hadn’t had since she was a toddler. It was time for a bedtime chat.  As I talked with her, it became more apparent that I needed to record what she was sharing with me. I grabbed the laptop and just typed sitting on her bed next to her.

This was our conversation, verbatim:

Honey, you’ve seemed really stressed lately.  Do YOU think you’ve been stressed?
—I HAVE been stressed, Mom.
Do you know why? Can you tell me?
—Yes… This week has been SO much testing. We haven’t been able to do anything else. And it was hard because our teacher (was sick all week and) wasn’t there.
But you seemed stressed before that.
—Because I knew we were going to have testing all this week.
What do you mean you haven’t been able to do anything else? (After I pressed later, she did tell me they did specials and science and math in the afternoons, but this was her initial recollection of her week.)
—It’s just been testing every day, except for Monday. And it was hard because we didn’t get to do anything else from the time we got to school.
What if you had to go to the bathroom?
—We can only go one time.
How do you feel about what you did in testing this week?
—I felt like we’ve been doing it all over again.
What do you mean by doing it all over again?
—I felt like we were doing the same thing over and over. It was all multiple choice.
Why is that stressful for you?
—Because everything is multiple choice.  We have to fill in this little bubble completely.  And perfectly.  And if you don’t, there’s a lady there who makes sure that your bubbles are PERFECTLY bubbled in before they can put it in the machine. And it’s really hard to do that for 90 minutes every time, over and over, day after day.  It’s hard because I get nervous, and it’s hard for my hands to keep steady when I’m nervous.
Can you tell me what that’s like for you?
—There are seven tests all stapled together.  All mini-assessments.  There are 5 questions, a bubble sheet, and there are 7 of them. Math and Reading. Two Reading tests and two Math tests on different days. One day is Reading, the next day is Reading, the next day is Math, and the other day is Math. So this is like taking FCAT twice, because ———Benchmark is a mock of FCAT.
How did your teacher prepare your class for Benchmark testing this week?
—We’ve been practicing. She told us it was like FCAT, but shorter. She told us what the questions are like. But they asked me something I didn’t know and it was complicated for me.
Can you tell me about that?
—I didn’t know what the units were, or what the sq. ft. was.  And it was hard for me.
Would you like to learn about sq. ft. and units?
—Yes.
OK, we can do that.  How do you feel about the FCAT?
—A little nervous.
What makes you nervous?
—What makes me most nervous is when I don’t know the answer, I worry that if I get it wrong, I don’t know what will happen.
Has your teacher talked about what will happen if you don’t do well on the FCAT?
—No.
Is there anything you want to ask me?
—I want to know why there’s so much testing.
What would you want to be doing instead of testing?
—I want to do more science and learning more things.
What do you learn from testing?
—Nothing. I study what I already know TO test. Everything we learn, there’s a test afterward.
Is it always a multiple-choice test?
—No. Sometimes we have free response, but mostly it’s multiple-choice.
In everything?
—Yes, even in Time For Kids, our social studies, we have questions that are multiple choice and then on the back, they have the same exact questions, just placed in a different order.
How do you study to test?
—We pre-test.
So you practice taking tests?
—A week before the test, we do a review of the benchmark test.
How often do you practice taking tests?
—Every time we learn something new.
What is that like for you?
—Like doing the same thing over and over again.
Do you like school?
—I like school. I love school, but I just don’t like to test all the time.
So how do you feel about school now?
—I have to do everything over and over again.
Do you enjoy that?
—No, I could be learning new things instead of doing it twice.
So how do you feel about school the way it is for you now?
—Like I’m wasting a lot of time when I could be learning something.
If you could tell your teacher how you would like school to be, what would you tell her?
—I would tell her that I don’t want to do things over and over again.  I want to learn new things.
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A few weeks later, my daughter asked me, “Mommy, do I have to take the FCAT?”

Your school says you have to. —But do I HAVE to…? Well, no, you don’t, actually. —What if I don’t take the test? If you don’t test, they could try to keep you in the third grade, but I talked to your teacher and you would be fine. —I don’t want to take it. Why not? —My teacher keeps saying it’s really easy. We spent all day today taking Benchmark tests and she says it’s just like that. It’s a stupid waste of time to do it again and it doesn’t TEACH me anything. AND we still have to test the rest of this week. (Testing before the test. Great.) What would you like to learn? —Social Studies. We hardly do any Social Studies. Would you like me to talk to your teacher? —Can my teacher MAKE me…? No one can make you do anything you don’t want to do. Ever. —Mom, Why don’t you like the FCAT?

And so, we began another conversation that night…

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I shared these exchanges with Becky Smith, fellow Opt Out Orlando rabble -rouser and brilliant educator/activist/friend. Becky responded:

“I am happy to hear that you decided to have this conversation with Emma. Children undoubtedly know what’s going on (the meaningless abounds every piece of legislation), and the most perceptive teachers and parents are keen to the children’s awareness. The problem is that youngest children are waiting for us to tell them it’s OK to question and resist what’s being done to them. We, as parents and teachers, have to give them the ‘go ahead’ to do so. We have to bring them into the conversation so they can learn to be critical of what’s happening in their schools, what they’re being taught, and how they’re being treated (You know as well as I do, that such vital discussion are not happening in the schools).

I have struggled immensely with how much of this reality to share with my own 6 year old daughter.  She’s so loving and joyful, and I worry that too much ‘reality‘ will make her cynical and distrustful. I came to the realization, though, that if I didn’t involve her in the process now, I was setting her up for a life of servitude and manipulation by a system that sees humans as nothing more than dollar signs.  Our children get it because they confront it everyday in ways that you and I don’t.  All children know, and that is both the beauty and the tragedy of it.  The youngest children simply lack the language to bring it into a cohesive form, like the Love Letter to Albuquerque Public Schools.

Keep engaging her in the conversation, encourage her to question and to be critical. These qualities form the essence of democracy.”

My discussions with my daughter were not about school not being fun.  At eight years old, my daughter understands that school is not always fun.  She is not a ‘spoiled‘ child, who is at school to be merely entertained or occupied.  She is, at eight years old, a very serious student.  She is creative, artistic, imaginative, generous, and she is allowed to question anything, even when I might prefer it if she would just be compliant.  She looks at and sees things beyond the surface. School might not always even be interesting, but she is a child who craves learning and loves going to school.  At eight years old, she is very clear that she goes to school to learn.  What is most important about my discussions with her is that she believed she wasn’t learning, and that I believed her.  She also learned that night that I would listen to her, that I believed her, that she had valid reasons for concern and that I, her Mom and fierce advocate, would look out for her interests.

Even young children probably get it more than parents think they do. Children have amazingly accurate internal alarms when something doesn’t make sense to them, but they may not always know how to start the conversation, if they even know what to call it. What happens to their unasked questions if we don’t teach them how to ask?

My children no longer attend this school.  We did opt out of the third grade FCAT with no consequence. Except for my daughter’s teacher compiling a portfolio as an alternative assessment, my daughter was promoted to the fourth grade without much fuss.

Talk with your children.  They already know.  If you’re hearing a similar bedtime story from your child, you might consider whether you approve of their ‘new normal’.  If not, you might consider opting out.  We can show you how.

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