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Fewer 3rd-graders held back by FCAT

Half of third-graders who failed the FCAT reading section will be promoted to the fourth grade.

Published May 28, 2005

First comes the bad news: 21 percent of Pasco County's third-graders are reading so poorly that the state says they should be retained.

That was the headline earlier this month when the state Department of Education released the district-by-district scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

But the good news for those third-graders trickles in afterward, quietly, without news releases and news conferences.

Student by student, school officials work to find ways within the law to exempt children from third-grade retention.

They review portfolios. They retest them. They check to see how many times those students have been retained before. And if the students have limited English proficiency and only a couple years of English instruction, they decide that's enough to send them forward into the next grade.

The good news Friday was this: close to half the 2,010 Pasco third-graders who scored in the lowest level on FCAT reading will move on to the fourth grade anyway.

That means that instead of 21 percent facing retention, only 12 percent are. And by summer's end, after students go to intensive reading camps, that number will no doubt be lower.

Last year, when 24 percent of the district's third-graders scored in the lowest level, the summer ended with only 10 percent of the third-graders actually being retained.

That's in spite of what the state touts as a get-tough law designed to end, as Gov. Jeb Bush calls it, "social promotion," the act of passing students on to the next grade just because of their age.

Sandy Ramos, assistant superintendent for Pasco County schools, said she believes the state-sanctioned exemptions are necessary. "From the governor's point of view, you've got to have high expectations for everyone. Except, when you think about it, a lot of these kids have diagnosed learning problems, that's why they are getting additional help. Their learning rate is not going to be the the same as every other child."

In fact, Pasco's elementary schools on Friday submitted numbers showing that 70 percent of the 431 students qualifying for the state's "good cause" exemptions are disabled pupils who have already been retained for one year and received at least two years of intensive reading remediation. Of the total group, other reasons students are being exempted are:

26 (6 percent) have limited English proficiency and less than two years of English instruction.

Nine (2 percent) are students with disabilities who took the test even though their educational plans say the FCAT is not an appropriate assessment.

12 (3 percent) earned an acceptable score on another test.

70 (16 percent) showed they were meeting state standards by presenting a portfolio of their class work and other tests.

11 (3 percent) already have been retained two years prior and have received intensive reading remediation for two years but still haven't scored adequately on the test.

The remaining 589 third-graders still at risk of being retained are invited to attend state-funded summer reading camps, June 20-July 14. If they make a sufficient score on another reading test at the end of the summer, they may be granted promotion.

In the meantime, Ramos and her colleagues are beginning to explore new ways to educate overage students who, as a result of the law, have been retained multiple years and no longer fit well socially with the students in their grade level.

[Last modified May 28, 2005, 00:09:12]

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