What exactly determines Third Grade retention?

by: Heide Janshon

Dear parents,

I’m sure you’ve been terrified by all sorts of claims that the Third Grade ELA FSA (English Language Arts Florida Standards Assessment) determines whether your child is retained or promoted.  Please read on and stand firmly on the fact that you are informed, empowered and can rest in the knowledge (and inform others as well) that the FSA does not solely determine your child’s fate in any grade.

The Florida Statutes specifically address 3rd Grade promotion and retention and how these are determined.  F.S. 1008.25(5) states:


(a)Any student in kindergarten through grade 3 who exhibits a substantial deficiency in reading based upon screening, diagnostic, progress monitoring, or assessment data; statewide assessments; or teacher observations must be provided intensive, explicit, systematic, and multisensory reading interventions immediately following the identification of the reading deficiency. A school may not wait for a student to receive a failing grade at the end of a grading period to identify the student as having a substantial reading deficiency and initiate intensive reading interventions. The student’s reading proficiency must be monitored and the intensive interventions must continue until the student demonstrates grade level proficiency in a manner determined by the district, which may include achieving a Level 3 on the statewide, standardized English Language Arts assessment. The State Board of Education shall identify by rule guidelines for determining whether a student in kindergarten through grade 3 has a substantial deficiency in reading.

(b)To be promoted to grade 4, a student must score a Level 2 or higher on the statewide, standardized English Language Arts assessment required under s. 1008.22 for grade 3. If a student’s reading deficiency is not remedied by the end of grade 3, as demonstrated by scoring Level 2 or higher on the statewide, standardized assessment required under s. 1008.22 for grade 3, the student must be retained.

(c)The parent of any student who exhibits a substantial deficiency in reading, as described in paragraph (a), must be notified in writing of the following:

1.That his or her child has been identified as having a substantial deficiency in reading, including a description and explanation, in terms understandable to the parent, of the exact nature of the student’s difficulty in learning and lack of achievement in reading.

2.A description of the current services that are provided to the child.

3.A description of the proposed intensive interventions and supports that will be provided to the child that are designed to remediate the identified area of reading deficiency.

4.That if the child’s reading deficiency is not remediated by the end of grade 3, the child must be retained unless he or she is exempt from mandatory retention for good cause.

5.Strategies, including multisensory strategies, through a read-at-home plan the parent can use in helping his or her child succeed in reading.

6.That the statewide, standardized English Language Arts assessment is not the sole determiner of promotion and that additional evaluations, portfolio reviews, and assessments are available to the child to assist parents and the school district in knowing when a child is reading at or above grade level and ready for grade promotion.

7.The district’s specific criteria and policies for a portfolio as provided in subparagraph (6)(b)4. and the evidence required for a student to demonstrate mastery of Florida’s academic standards for English Language Arts. A parent of a student in grade 3 who is identified anytime during the year as being at risk of retention may request that the school immediately begin collecting evidence for a portfolio.

It is so important for parents to read this section in its entirety to fully grasp that this legislation was put into place to protect the rights of the parents and child, ensuring that the parents receive ample notification of deficiency and that the child is given ample time to improve any deficiency. This legislation was never meant to punish children or threaten parents, even though some communications from the state might contain that implication.

The following FLDOE document outlines the contents of a good cause exemption and a student portfolio.  Note the number of alternative assessments available for your child.


There may be a great deal of confusion for parents when hearing about these types of student “portfolios”:

  1. Authentic Student Portfolio – a collection of a student’s work requested by parents dating from the beginning of 3rd Grade through the end of the school year comprised of work demonstrating a progression of mastery of the Florida Standards pertaining to reading.
  2. Test Portfolio – A battery of mini exams (40-44) defined by the state that are perhaps more difficult than the FSA and with very specific criteria laid out by the FLDOE: http://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/7539/urlt/Third-Grade-Portfolio-Guidance.pdf

Many districts are already using one or more of the tools that are specified as alternative assessments (such as I-ready or I-station). Consult your district’s progression plan (which can most likely be found on their web site) to determine what is being used in your area. You can also ask your school’s Principal for more information.

Remember that all of these “tools” have been specified by legislation to help a child move onto 4th grade, not to punish a child for being deficient in reading.




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