Mississippi lawmakers claim to have modeled Mississippi’s Literacy-Based Promotion Act after Florida’s, but Florida did not base its retentions on one test. The Sunshine State’s statute has a provision that leaves the final say with teachers, principals and superintendents, so long as they can back up their recommendations with evidence that the student in question has made appropriate progress. This is provided for in two sections of the Florida law:
Section 2(c)(6) says:
- That while the statewide assessment is the initial determinate, it is not the sole determiner of promotion at the end of grade 3 and that additional evaluations, including portfolio reviews and alternative assessments are available through good cause exemptions.
And Section 2(F)(2) allows a good cause exemption for:
- Students who demonstrate, through a student portfolio, grade level performance as evidenced by demonstrating mastery of all grade 3 state reading standards through multiple work samples.
Section 2(G) outlines how the good cause exemptions work:
(G) Requests for Good Cause Exemptions – Requests to exempt students from the mandatory retention requirement using one of the good cause exemptions as described in paragraph (F) shall be made consistent with the following:
- Documentation shall be submitted from the student’s teacher to the school principal that indicates that the promotion of the student is appropriate. Such documentation shall consist only of the good cause exemption being requested, the existing reading improvement plan or Individual Education Plan, and the alternative assessment or student portfolio results as applicable.
- The school principal shall review and discuss the recommendation with the teacher and make the determination as to whether the student should be promoted. If the school principal determines that the student should be promoted based on the documentation provided, the school principal shall make such recommendation in writing to the district school superintendent. The district school superintendent shall accept or reject the school principal’s recommendation in writing.
Mississippi’s bill is missing that provision. The only exemptions allowed in our statute are for:
- limited English proficient students who have had fewer than 2 years of English language instruction
- students with such severe disabilities that their IEPs indicate that they should not participate in any state testing
- children with IEPs or 504 plans who have already been retained once
- students who have previously been retained twice
In each year that Florida’s retention law has been in effect, only about half of the students who haven’t met the cut score have, in fact, been retained:
- In 2003, 23% of 3rd graders scored at lowest level on reading FCAT; 14% were retained
- In 2004, 22% of 3rd graders scored at lowest level on reading FCAT; 11% were retained
- In 2005, 20% of 3rd graders scored at lowest level on reading FCAT; 10% were retained
- In 2006, 19% of 3rd graders scored at lowest level on reading FCAT; 8% were retained
- In 2008, 16% of 3rd graders scored at lowest level on reading FCAT; 7% were retained
- In 2009, 17% of 3rd graders scored at lowest level on reading FCAT; 6% were retained
- In 2010, 16% of 3rd graders scored at lowest level on reading FCAT; 6% were retained
It is noteworthy that Governor Bryant’s original 2013 literacy bill included the good cause exemption mentioned above that allows students to demonstrate mastery of grade 3 standards through multiple work samples. That bill passed the House with the amendment intact, but it was removed by the Senate author and the final 2013 Literacy-Based Promotion Act did not include it. We encourage legislators to amend the statute to include this important exemption and avoid doing considerable harm to Mississippi third-graders who are progressing well in school but having difficulty with one high-stakes test.
Parents and teachers don’t want students who can’t read to be promoted, they want students who are making appropriate progress to get a fair shake. Is that too much to ask?