Nearly 30 percent of Manatee third-graders flagged for retention

BRADENTON -- More than 1,000 Manatee County third-graders were flagged for possible retention after taking state exams this spring.

A total of 1,175 students, or 29 percent of the district's third-graders, fell into the bottom fifth of student scores across the state, according to an update provided by Manatee Superintendent Diana Greene.

"Third grade traditionally for us has been our grade level where we have most of our students struggling," Greene said. "Either they are proficient or they're in that bottom."

This year marked a new era of testing for students statewide. The tests were tied to Florida State Standards, a modification of the controversial Common Core standards. The new tests, based on a shift in teaching, were seen as more rigorous than in past years.

The percentage of third-grade students flagged for repeating the third grade is higher this year than in the past three years, according to data provided by the school district. In 2012, 24 percent of third-grade students were flagged. In 2013, 25 percent, were flagged and last year, 26 percent were flagged.

Just because a third-grade student is flagged for retention does not automatically mean the student does not advance to the fourth grade. Numbers for how many students were retained during that three-year period were not immediately available Wednesday.

If students are flagged for retention by the state test, they still can be promoted. A portfolio review of the student's work can establish "good cause" to move the student on to the fourth grade. Portfolio reviews are underway now, Greene said, and she said she expects about half of the 1,175 students to be approved for promotion.

Students who don't pass through the portfolio review can attend summer school and can take another test at the end of that program to move to the fourth grade. Greene said she expects about 500 students to take that option.

"Five hundred students is the size of Ballard Elementary School," Greene said.

Students who don't pass will repeat the third grade. Greene did not have an estimate of how many students that may be.

Nearly 70 percent of the flagged third-grade students are either not native English speakers or are identified as having learning disabilities, Greene said. Eighty-eight percent of the flagged students qualify for free and reduced lunch.

"You have poverty, you have language, you have disability all playing a role and we need to be prepared to provide services and initiate programs that will support those students," Greene said.

This year, for the first time, the district is offering summer school in every Title I elementary school for students entering pre-kindergarten up to students entering the third grade. The district also introduced pre-kindergarten for Title I students during the 2014-15 school year, Greene said.

"We know that this has made a difference as we look at their exiting scores. These students truly benefited from being in pre-K," Greene said.

This year, districts did not receive scores for the students who fell in the bottom fifth across the state, only the names of the students, as the new tests are still being processed and scored.

In neighboring Sarasota County, 11 percent of third-graders fell in the bottom fifth. Of the 67 counties in Florida, Madison County had the highest percentage of students falling in the bottom fifth, with 33 percent of third-graders in that category. Union County had the lowest percentage -- only 7 percent of students there fell into the category.

"We have a lot of work to do," Greene said.

Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.