The test scores that will help determine whether third-grade students get to be promoted are in.
The good news: Slightly more students in Miami-Dade, Broward and across the state are reading on grade level or better.
On the other hand, the percentage of students who failed is up since the state moved to new, tougher tests. The increase was purposeful — state education leaders set higher cut-off scores when Florida adopted the Florida Standards Assessments last year.
In Miami-Dade and across Florida, the percentage of students reading on grade level or better increased by one point: from 53 percent to 54 percent. In Broward County, 55 percent of students performed on grade level or better.
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In a statement, Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho pointed out that the district did as well as the state, despite having more students who are poor and learning English.
“The fact that M-DCPS continues to improve despite these limitations is a testament to the determination and hard work of our students, teachers and leaders,” he said.
But the percentage of Miami-Dade students who failed the tests remained the same as last year, which will actually put more more students at risk of being forced to repeat the third grade.
In both years, 24 percent of Miami-Dade students scored a level one on the Florida Standards Assessment. In Broward, the percentage was 23. Typically, students are targeted for retention if they score a level one on the state’s test.
Last year, however, was not a typical year. It was the first year the Florida Standards Assessment was administered after the state did away with the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, the previous standardized exams kids had to take. The roll-out was anything but smooth.
Computer-based portions of the FSAs were plagued with glitches, and the state did not get scores back in time for school districts to make promotion and retention decisions. So school districts were given leeway from state requirements, and Miami-Dade used its own measures to decide which students should repeat third grade. About 1,700 kids were targeted.
This year, testing went much more smoothly and districts are back to using FSA scores. If trends from previous years hold, more than 3,200 Miami-Dade students could be forced to repeat a grade.
“I’m horrified,” said Cindy Hamilton, a mom in Central Florida who started the Opt Out Florida Network, which advocates against high-stakes testing. “That’s ridiculous, the number of kids who failed this test.”
The state expected about 22 percent of third-graders to fail their tests based on the criteria approved by the board of education. That’s compared with 19 percent who failed the previous version of the state’s standardized test, the FCAT. Florida phased out the FCAT after moving to new learning standards modeled after the Common Core.
Miami-Dade PTA President Alvin Gainey said the parent organization would rather see tests be used to guide teaching and learning — not make high-stakes decisions.
“We believe that students’ assessments should identify how instruction and learning can be improved, and assessments should help parents and teachers understand academic need,” he said.
Gisela Feild, who heads Miami-Dade’s testing department, stressed that students who failed the test have many more opportunities to go on to fourth grade. Districts are allowed to promote students for “good cause” if they are learning to speak English or have a disability.
In other cases, school leaders can consider a portfolio of work when making promotion decisions and students also have the chance to earn a certain score on other approved tests.
If they still don’t pass, students are targeted for summer school — where they have another chance to earn a passing test score. There’s also a chance to be promoted mid-year.