Florida Record

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Parents take fight against Florida’s third-grade retention law to court

By Rebecca Campbell | Sep 16, 2016

ORLANDO – Florida parents opposed to the state’s third-grade retention law have filed a lawsuit to challenge it in court.

Speaking to the Florida Record, Cindy Hamilton from The Opt Out Florida Network said that Florida is the cradle of education reform with a governor that is determined to increase accountability to increase test results. However, over the years negative impacts have been seen due to the high stakes that are attached to the testing the children take.

“The high stakes would be teacher pay and teacher evaluations, school grades, which means money, and also whether or not a child is retained in third-grade or passed or even in 10th grade. If they don’t pass the test they can be denied a diploma when they graduate,” she said.

Cindy Hamilton runs an organization, along with several others, called The Opt Out Florida Network with groups at the district levels to serve as a grassroots organization to support people choosing not to take the tests. According to Hamilton, Opt Out is an act of protest in defiance of unjust laws.

The lawsuit aims to have the third-grade retention law declared unconstitutional and unenforceable.

“It doesn’t matter how you performed all year long, which is why we’re calling this a 180 days count, you have to pass a test to move on to fourth grade,” said Hamilton. “The teacher’s professional opinion doesn’t matter; how you scored on daily classroom work doesn’t matter, if you don’t pass that test, you go back to third grade.”

In Florida, parents have another way for children to move on to fourth-grade by providing a portfolio. Hamilton states that while a portfolio sounds like a lovely idea to a layman, it isn’t.

“It sounds like what it should be, which would be a representation of all best work throughout a school year,” she said. “What the state of Florida has done to that is they have made 42 mini tests and if you don’t pass the portfolio testing, then you don’t get to move on.”

As a result, the parents involved in the lawsuit have refused to take part in any of the reading test.

Florida’s third-grade retention law, in place since 2003, has been controversial since its inception. The parents are hoping that through the lawsuit the judge will sign an injunction, putting a stop to third-grade retention and put the children back into a fourth-grade seat.

Hamilton says that while Florida’s legislature has been pressured to make changes to the accountability system, it is not focusing on the high stakes in the classrooms, which is what it should be and not what tests should be taken. She adds, though, that she does think that assessments are still valid.

“I don’t think assessments are outdated, I think they are valuable,” she said. “I think the way that the data is used after the fact is only to benefit people outside of the classroom.”

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