Judge Sides With Families In Third Grade Retention Case

Aug 26, 2016

Credit Martha T. / flickr.com

Can a student pass the third grade without taking a state mandated standardized test? A Florida judge says yes.

The morning Brandy Paternoster’s twins were scheduled to start a test that’s supposed to check their readiness to advance from third to fourth grade, Paternoster told her children to do something else instead.

“They came to school on the morning of the test. They sat for the test. They broke the seal of the test and then pushed the test away,” Paternoster says.

Paternoster is part of a group of parents that sued the state to let their kids advance to the fourth grade without completing the third grade assessment test. Paternoster says the test is too “high stakes” for an eight year-old. And while Beth Overholt’s children are older, she echoes that sentiment.

“It’s not that we’re opposed to testing. We’re opposed to high stakes testing. I have a daughter who is in high school and she does take her AP exams, her IB exams. She’s taken the ACT. But there’s no high stakes to those tests. Those tests are choices. She does not have to take those tests,” Overholt says.

Overholt and Paternoster want the right for their kids to “opt out” of standardized tests and while the discussion around the issue is growing, relatively few students are actually doing it. The Florida Department of Education says it’s not an option. It doesn’t track students who opt out, but it does count the number tests that have been administered, but not completed. Last school year that accounted for a less than one percent of students for most tests. A test could be started and not completed for a number of reasons. In some cases that could be because parents have directed students to opt out, by breaking the seal on their test then pushing it away. But the third grade assessment test is mandated by state law and the department of education claims it is needed to protect against social promotion. But Paternoster argues there are alternatives. When she instructed her kids to push their test away in March, she expected the school to rely on a different procedure to judge her child’s readiness—what’s called a teacher compiled portfolio.

“The statute and the Broward County Progression Plan lays it out as, I don’t remember what all the specifics are, but work must be selected by the teacher. It must be independently done in the classroom. It lists very specific guidelines as the number of words etc,” Paternoster says.

But portfolios are typically used as a backup plan for students who take the exam, but don’t test well. And officials argue they can be subjective. However a Tallahassee judge has ruled schools must consider other options for promotion such as grades and portfolios and can’t hold a student back simply for failing to complete an assessment.