FCAT third-grade reading law questioned
Five years after a state law required school districts to make third-graders who fail the reading FCAT repeat the year, questions remain about whether the strict rule that has affected tens of thousands of students is effective.
Soon after the law was enacted, the state trumpeted stories of parents initially upset by the retention who later were pleased. But a recent Miami-Dade study that followed the first group of retained students concluded that retention only improves student achievement initially.
''It appears now that the gains have essentially disappeared,'' the study states.
A similar Broward study that tracked the first group of retained students -- who just finished seventh grade -- also found that as they have grown up, their attendance rate in school has dropped and their suspension rate has risen.
State data show that for students who have repeated third grade -- despite the extra year in elementary school -- nearly half fail the reading test as fourth-graders.
Arizona State University Professor Mary Lee Smith studied Florida's law the year after it was enacted and has continued monitoring its effects. In 2004, her policy brief recommended the law be repealed.
Four years later, Smith's objections are the same.
'The research stretching over a 60-plus-year period has consistently demonstrated the same thing: that retention in grade does not improve performance in subsequent years' achievement and bears a strong relationship to dropping out of school later,'' Smith wrote in an e-mail to The Miami Herald. ``No other body or research is so strongly one-sided, yet policy makers and politicians point to it as a way to improve performance.''
She said many other strategies, including small class sizes, high quality preschools, good teachers, remediation on academic skills before and after school and tutoring are better than retention as long as they are not teaching to the test.
Policies like Florida's dot the country. In New York City, for the last four years, third-graders who score in the lowest of four levels on English and math tests have been required to repeat the grade unless they score higher after summer school or if teachers appeal....