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High-Stakes!
Can the School Use a Single Test to Retain My Child?

by Suzanne Whitney, Research Editor
Wrightslaw

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I just returned from a meeting at my son's school where I was informed about changes in promotion and retention for grades K-5. My son is in 2nd grade and has a IEP. He has been labeled PDD-NOS.

The State of Florida has a test called the FCAT-SSS which has been taken by regular ed children. If they do not pass with a certain percentile, they will be retained. I was told that this year, these rules will be applied to students with disabilities.

My son is doing well in school and is capable of passing the test. However, because of his disability, he is more likely to have an "off day," not pass the test, and have to repeat his current grade.

It is ridiculous that a single test can determine if a child is promoted or retained.

The school personnel advised me of alternatives to the test, such as a second similar test. There are non-test alternatives, but the state has not yet determined what they are. I was told that this is unlikely to help in my son's situation.

My questions are:

1. Have you heard of this piece of legislation in Florida?

2. Is this legal, with respect to IDEA or other legislation for disabled children?

3. Why do we spend so much time on IEPs and teacher training to help kids with disabilities if one test can disrupt everything we are working toward?

4. Do you know of any special interest groups that are fighting this legislation?

5. What can I do to change this ridiculous legislation?

Any answers and ideas are most appreciated.


Sue Whitney answers these questions. What she learned may surprise you.

Myths & Facts

When I did some research on FCAT, I found a FCAT - Myths and Facts article from the FL DOE. (Note: Though listed in the documents on the DOE website, it appears it is no longer available. You may find a copy of Myths and Facts here.)

You will find Frequently Asked Questions about Assessment and School Performance.

I found that retention of 2nd graders is NOT a state requirement. Florida requires retention for 3rd grade students who do not pass the FCAT test. Any other retention plans are local.

You should read everything about this law on the Florida website. I am including several links at the end of this article.

For promotion to grade 4, there are six good cause exemptions for students scoring at a Level 1 on the Grade 3 FCAT 2.0 Reading assessment. The grade 3 good cause exemptions also require districts to implement a policy for the midyear promotion of retained grade 3 students.

Strategies

Print the documents, then meet again with the people who gave you the information about this being a state requirement. Have your documents handy to back up what you are saying. If there is still a difference of opinion, ask them to show you where you can find the information they are relying upon.

Remember that new or changing law causes confusion, and makes it far more likely that school personnel are giving parents like you inaccurate information and advice. Make sure you verify the information you are getting.

You may find that your local school board is requiring this. It is possible that the educators at your child's school think this is state policy, and the school board does not have a policy about it at all. You need to find out.

If your school board has a retention policy, ask for a copy of the policy along with the minutes of the meeting when it was approved. Ask them about the research they used in formulating the grade retention policy.

If you find that your school board is requiring this, are they aware that there is absolutely no research to show that retention is appropriate for any group of students? If they are not, you need to bring this to their attention.

Provide your school board members with this position statement from the National Association of School Psychologists, Grade Retention - Achievement and Mental Health Outcomes.

Educating Others

When you find useful information, pass it on to other parents, teachers, administrators, legislators, and the media. As you collect information, put the links or mailing addresses for these resources into a Word document. In no time at all you will have enough information to make a flyer that is customized to the specific issues affecting children in your area.

Pass it on. Leave the flyer in libraries. Pass it out in the carpool line.

Send a flyer to all the parents you know and ask them to make 10 copies to send to 10 people they know. Ask them to make another pile of flyers to leave in their local libraries.

Pretty soon, everyone interested will have accurate information and the documents they need to back up their positions.

Council of Parents, Attorneys & Advocates

You asked about special interest groups who are fighting for children with disabilities.

Yes, there is a group called the Council of Parents, Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA). COPAA is has their national conference in the spring, usually in March. You may want to attend this conference. Walk-ins are welcome.

You must be a COPAA member to attend the conference. To be a member, you must not be a school employee. If you decide to attend, you can bring the membership application with you to the conference.

The COPAA membership brochure is another thing you can pass out to every other parent in the same boat. The e-mail discussion list on COPAA is a good source of ideas and guidance.

I hope this helps.

Useful Links

Florida Department of Education website

FCAT section


Council of Parents Attorneys & Advocates

Retention & Social Promotion flyer

High-Stakes Testing flyer

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