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Lawsuit Challenges Holding back Third Grade Students Over Standardized Tests

| August 10, 2016

standardized tests florida lawsuit

Never too young for a standardized test in Florida. (Beth)

Fourteen parents whose children were retained in third grade after they “opted out” of Florida’s standardized tests filed a lawsuit this week, saying their rights were violated by confusing standards that rely too much on a single exam.


The lawsuit says Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, the state Department of Education, the state Board of Education and several local school districts violated the families’ rights to due process and equal protection when deciding whether to allow certain students to move on to fourth grade.

But at the heart of the lawsuit is a clash over whether students are required to take the Florida Standards Assessments before moving on from third grade. The “opt out” movement is part of a larger backlash against standardized testing, with many parents feeling that the state is subjecting students to too many exams.

The lawsuit asks a Leon County court to block the decision to retain the students in the third grade, saying the children will be “irreparably harmed” if they are held back. It points to research showing that students who are held back become isolated and lose interest in school.

“The negative behaviors associated with retention are exacerbated here because each of the plaintiffs’ children received a report card with passing grades, some earning straight A’s and Honor Roll for their hard work throughout the school year, but yet they will be retained in the third grade despite having no reading deficiency,” the suit says.

Parents also asked for an emergency injunction from the court, saying many of them didn’t find out their students would be retained until May or June, and school is set to begin shortly. The districts named in the suit include Orange, Hernando, Osceola, Sarasota, Broward, Seminole and Pasco counties.

While the suit focuses on events in the 2015-2016 school year that led to some students being held back, it also more broadly challenges efforts to require students to take standardized tests before moving on to the fourth grade.

“Refusing to accept a student portfolio or report card based on classroom work throughout the course of the school year when there is no reading deficiency is arbitrary and irrational,” it says.

The complaint portrays state and local officials as struggling to come to terms with whether to accept portfolios of students’ work or the marks on report cards in lieu of test scores, particularly for students who essentially refused to complete the tests. As a result, students who opted out were allowed to move on without test scores in some cases, but not in others.

As late as February, according to notes from a telephone call with local superintendents attached to the complaint, Stewart was insisting that state laws allowing for student portfolios to be used in retention decisions did not create an opportunity for students to refuse to take the tests.

In late May, the complaint says, the Department of Education clarified its policy. According to a Tampa Bay Times report cited in the lawsuit, the agency said retention was a local decision, and a spokeswoman for the department said “we never said you must retain a student who doesn’t have an FSA score.”

The damage was already done, the lawsuit contends.

“By May 2016, it was too late for many school districts or schools to provide guidance to teachers on what was required for documentation of the student portfolio exemption,” it says. “Students at those schools that maintained a student portfolio throughout the school year relied upon the portfolio exemption to be promoted to the fourth grade, while those schools that did not had inadequate documentation to meet the portfolio exemption criteria.”

–Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida

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5 Responses for “Lawsuit Challenges Holding back Third Grade Students Over Standardized Tests”

  1. Joe says:

    Thank God its about time some parents start standing up to this ridiculous system. Years ago my son was threatened to be held back even though he was an honor roll student got an A in Reading but sue to the fact he is not a good standardized test taker he did not do well. Let hope all standardized test get thrown out just as they were in Finland, which by the way has the top rated schools in the world.

  2. Traci says:

    Flagler County is just as bad. My son was kept back in third grade due these test. He failed the test by one question and Tallahassee would not let him move on to fourth grade even though we have medical documentation that these test are detrimental to his health (he has severe anxiety). We were informed that it is the law and that if you fail the test you fail the grade. He passed all his subjects and was on the A B Honor Roll. We were also told there is no opt out for theses test. What is the sense of the children being in school and getting grades if the only thing that is going to determine weather they pass or are retained is a state test? These test stress out the children! My boys went back to school yesterday and already on the first day back my son said they were talking about the state test…Really!? I mean come on it’s the first day! Get rid of these standardized test and start giving these children what they deserve, a proper education.

  3. theevoice says:

    c’mon now, how hard is it to pass a test you know is coming? simply study and oh yeah parents, be a help not a hindrance…

  4. Sick of testing says:

    It’s about time. Our kids are learning nothing but the test. It’s time to go back to teaching so kids can make it thru life.

    As to “the voice says” the new way of doing this work most parents would have to go back to school to learn it. I would like to know how many kids dropped out of school last year because of this test? How many senior’s failed?

  5. Joe says:

    Why do schools even keep grades when in the end it all comes down to whether a student passes or fails one stupid test. My son had immense anxiety before taking this test or any other standardized test which ultimately hurt his performance. Some kids are better test takers than others its a fact. Schools should not be teaching towards these stupid test and concentrate on simply teaching our kids. Something is seriously wrong with American schools when we’re 1st in spending in the world yet 30th in performance.

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