According to state education rules, around 3,350 third-graders in Broward County and 2,400 in Palm Beach County are supposed to be repeating the grade due to their FCAT reading scores -- which they won't, thanks to a few "loopholes."
By state standards, those scoring a "1" on the FCAT reading scale of 1-5 means they were unable to put meanings to words or read more than 500 words on their own.
But the districts will do whatever it takes to move these kids along.
Around 70 percent of kids who failed the FCAT reading portion were promoted to fourth grade in Palm Beach County, and that number has increased every year since the standard was enacted in 2003, according to the Palm Beach Post.
The paper says there are four ways that district is helping the youngsters move along to the next grade level despite the state standards:
- Students can show an acceptable level of performance on certain alternative standardized reading assessments.
- Students can use a teacher-developed academic portfolio to show that they can read at a sufficient level to move on to fourth grade.
- Students who have been retained twice before during their years in school and have had an intensive remediation for two years can be promoted.
- Limited English-proficient students who have had less than two years of English for Speakers of Other Languages instruction and certain exceptional education students with disabilities also can be exempted from being held back if they fail the FCAT.
When the rule to hold back kids who failed the test was beginning to be implemented, then-Superintendent of the Palm Beach District told the Post, "he planned to issue as many exemptions to students who failed the reading FCAT as possible," a plan which has apparently carried over the following years.
Don't forget that 12 percent of kids in both Broward and Palm Beach scored in the gray area of the FCAT by scoring a "2" -- they didn't quite fail the reading test, but they didn't reach the grade-level reading score either. They automatically qualify to move on to fourth grade.
That means that of the 29 percent of third-graders in Broward and 30 percent in Palm Beach, most of them will get to skip along merrily to fourth grade, despite not reaching a third-grade reading level.
It's what the Orlando Sentinel called "social promotion" in 2005, quoting an employee of the state education department as calling it "educational malpractice."
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Maybe the state should take notice that pushing along kids who aren't ready to the next grade in elementary school could be a contributing factor to creating high-school dropouts -- of which Florida had the seventh highest rate in the country, according to 2010 findings by the New York Times.