School's not over for some Treasure Coast third-graders

While students were celebrating the last days of school, some third-graders were told they have a few more weeks of intense reading to anticipate.

In Martin County, which ended the school year May 25, third-graders who failed this year's reading FCAT begin summer school Monday. Indian River and St. Lucie County begin summer school June 12.

Statewide, about 18 percent of the third-graders scored in the lowest level of the reading Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, putting them at risk for repeating the third grade.

With just a few days left of the school year when third-grade reading scores were released May 24, school district officials throughout the state started scrambling. In Martin, scores were released the day before the last day of school.

Once results were released, districts began helping students prepare their portfolios with scores from previous benchmark tests showing mastery of the subject. If students can show proficiency on previous tests they can go on to fourth grade without going to summer school. Districts also can exempt those with special needs, previous retentions or who have limited English from going to summer school.

Some districts were proactive in trying to minimize the number of students required to attend summer school. Martin schools gave students considered to be at risk of failing the FCAT reading another assessment test in May, just in case scores were low on the FCAT.

"It gives you an alternative," said Martin Schools Superintendent Nancy Kline.

While Treasure Coast educators were still finalizing numbers, days before most programs begin, they estimate fewer students needing to attend the summer program.

Martin County based its summer school budget on last year's numbers, when about 13 percent of the district's third graders failed the test. This year, that number dropped to about 11 percent. Indian River County also projected higher numbers than they now expect to have, said Jody Idlette Bennet, Indian River's executive director of Core Curriculum. About 13 percent of Indian River County's third graders scored in Level 1 this year.

"We projected high, so there are no surprises," Bennett said. But when the district pulls out exemptions, educators expect about the same number of students attending summer school as last year, she said.

"We actually did very well," Kline said. Scores released last week showed a decline in the number of Martin students scoring in Level 1, she said.

In St. Lucie County, about 20 percent of the district's third-graders scored in Level 1 this year.

Students who attend summer school will be given an alternative test at the end. If they pass that test, they can go on to fourth grade. If they fail, they'll have to repeat third grade.

Treasure Coast educators say notification a third grader has failed the FCAT reading shouldn't come as a surprise to most parents. Through benchmark testing, districts test students throughout the school year to see how students are progressing on state standards. Parents are told about the results of those tests, educators said.

The periodic benchmark tests show teachers which students need help during the school year before the FCAT, educators said.

District officials say summer school and even third-grade retention seem to help the struggling students.

Usually low-performing students do improve after another spending another year in third grade, Bennett said. Educators know that if they are going to catch the students, they need to do it by fourth grade, she said.

Research shows that if students aren't caught up by the fourth grade, they may never catch up to their classmates, Bennett said.

Kline said providing instruction to students during the summer months is beneficial for them to continue learning and remembering what they learned when school begins again in August.

"You get what's known as the summer slide," Kline said. "We always stress the importance of having students read daily when they are not in school."

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