As was the case in past years, more than a quarter of third graders in Manatee County were at risk of being held back after they failed the Florida Standards Assessments in English Language Arts this year.
The students' reading abilities are scored using levels. Under state law, students are required to earn a level 2 or higher to avoid repeating third grade, and about 1,100 students failed to meet that requirement. Though each was at risk of being held back, just more than half were promoted through other means, and more than 500 were still at risk of retention on Tuesday afternoon.
"Our students and our schools worked diligently," said Cynthia Saunders, deputy superintendent of instruction. "We're definitely commending them for their efforts, but we still need to work a little bit harder."
Statewide, more than 44,000 students scored at a Level 1.
Exemptions exist for some students, including certain students with limited English proficiency, students with certain disabilities and students who prove their abilities on a different test. The district also reviews the overall portfolio of students who scored a Level 1, analyzing their abilities and, in some cases, establishing "good cause" to let them enter the fourth grade.
Now that portfolio reviews are complete, Saunders said, 574 students are still at risk of being held back. They will have to take summer classes and pass an alternate exam if they want to be promoted.
Some students go into their second year as a third grader and receive a "mid-year promotion" after they prove their abilities at any point during the year. Under state law, retained students must receive "intensive interventions in reading." That includes at least 90 minutes of daily reading lessons, along with small-group instruction and frequent progress monitoring.
Saunders said retained students are enrolled in specialized academy classrooms.
"If you're going to put them back in the same type of environment they were in the year before and just have them redo it exactly in the same manner, that has not seemed to bode very well for our students," she said.
Overall, the number of students who earned a Level 3 or higher dropped by 1 percentage point in Manatee, falling from 50 percent to 49 percent. This year's score is 3 percentage points higher than it was in 2015, but it lags behind the statewide total and the scores of most neighboring districts.
About 57 percent of students were scored at Level 3 or higher statewide, compared to 58 percent last year. In Sarasota County, it was 68 percent; Hardee County, 57 percent; Hillsborough County, 53 percent; Polk County, 51 percent; and DeSoto County, 29 percent.
Historically, a large portion of retained students are English-language learners, Saunders said. The district has added more resources and pre-k classrooms to help those students.
"We have not mastered the area that we need to master in our district to catch up with the state and our neighbors," she said.