Jeff Solochek's Confused Interpretation of Third Grade Retention

Karen R. Effrem, MD - Executive Director

Jeff Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times wrote a confused and confusing column yesterday about the effects of the new testing law (HB 7069) on third grade retention, saying the following:

Because the law no longer mandates retention, districts are now figuring out how to have uniform decisions throughout their elementary school systems.

Here are four pieces of evidence showing that his statement is not true:
His earlier column on the subject:
This wording [The diluted Hays amendment requiring a validity study allegedly before retention] does not end or put off the retention of third graders.

The language to which he refers for the statement above that third grade retention is not ended:
1216 (c) Until such time as an independent verification of the
1217 psychometric validity of the statewide, standardized assessments
1218 first implemented in 2014-2015 is provided,for purposes of
1219 [determining - stricken]  grade 3 English Language Arts student performance
1220[ retention pursuant to s. 1008.25(5) - stricken] and high school graduation
1221requirements pursuant to s. 1003.4282, student performance on
1222 the 2014-2015 statewide, standardized assessments shall be
1223 linked to the 2013-2014 student performance expectations.

Because the legislature struck the language referring to the third grade retention statute related to the validity study requirement, there is no protection for third graders being retained due to an invalid test.

Additionally, the language above is only for the 2014-2015 school year.  There is no language to indicate that the third grade retention policy is changed, weakened, postponed, or stopped any time beyond 2015.

Another place in the new law:

922 (b) To be promoted to grade 4, a student must score a
923 Level 2 or higher on the statewide, standardized English
924 Language Arts assessment required under s. 1008.22 for grade 3.

House K-12 Education Chairwoman Marlene O'Toole during floor debate on the final bill:

It requires third grade students who receive scores in the bottom quintile of 2014-15 ELA assessments to be identified as at risk of retention.  Until the validity of the assessments is confirmed, these students will receive intensive instruction and support. Members! Members! To be clear, this does not restore social promotion.  Scores will be linked and the third grade retention policy was not changed. (Emphasis added).

Solochek goes on to say in the column that there are ways to still have a student promoted called "good cause exemptions": such as other tests and portfolios.  This is true, but nothing has changed with those exemptions and they have been in law for a long time.. In addition, those exemptions only are allowed to kick in after the student has failed the FSA test, which we have extensively documented is invalid and there is not protection in the new law from third graders being retained by taking an invalid test.

This column does a disservice to the Times readership, making them think there is a new relaxation of mandates when there clearly is not.  This adds confusion to an already complicated situation.  Apparently Politifact does not fact check its own reporters.

Posted in Testing. Tagged as 3rd grade retention, FSA, Jeff Solochek, Rep. Marlene O'Toole.

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