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  League of Women Voters Education Committee

Report of League of Women Voters Education Committee, March 21, 2009

Barbara Goggins, Chair
Marge Anderson
Nancie Lake
Gene Pettis
Charlotte Schipman
Pam Schwartz

League of Women Voters Pensacola Bay Area Local Program
Adopted in June of 2007 and re-adopted in May of 2008, the following is the LWVPBA recommended local program:

Study the impact of retention of third graders in the public schools of Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties as affected by the federal legislation, No Child Left Behind.

In April of 2006, the Education Committee of the League of Women Voters of the Pensacola Bay Area began investigating the impact of retention of third graders in the public schools of Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties as affected by the federal legislation No Child Left Behind. Members of the committee met with Malcolm Thomas, Director of Evaluation Services, Escambia County, and Vicki Wolf, Director of Education, Santa Rosa County. After Ms. Wolf’s retirement, the committee had contact with Sharon Diamond, Director of Elementary Education in Santa Rosa County. Two visits to Santa Rosa County and six visits to Escambia County summer programs were made during the summer of 2007. Dr Kathleen Heubach, faculty member in the Department of Education at UWF, also spoke with the group. Additionally, Dr. Craig Jones from ERDC (Educational Research and Development Center) at UWF generously shared his expertise.

Standards under NCLB do not define the achievement parameters of proficiency. This designation was left to the states. Florida under the A+ plan set the 51st percentile as proficient in reading, and the Florida legislature and governor established rather stringent requirements for students passing third grade. FCAT is the test Florida youngsters take over a period of several days in the spring. It is a pass-fail test. Retention in Florida is mandatory for any third grade student scoring at Level 1 on the reading section of the FCAT. Level 3 is considered proficient.  In Escambia County during the spring of 2007, 3,136 third graders took the test with 596 or 19% scoring at the lowest level. In Santa Rosa County during the spring of 2007, 1,800 third graders took the test with 126 or 7% scoring at the lowest level.

Before examining the information gleaned from the study, the committee felt it was important to consider the demographics of the two counties. Escambia County and Santa Rosa County lie in the panhandle at the extreme west end of the state of Florida. Though neighboring, these two counties are dissimilar.


  Escambia Santa Rosa
Population 2006 295,426 144,561
% of growth 2000-2006 .3% 22.8%
Racial breakdown (2006)
White 71.3% 90.5%
Black 23.0% 4.5%
Other 5.7% 5%
Home Ownership (2000) 67.3% 80.4%
Median Household Income (2004) $36,743 $46.298
Percent of free lunches
2006 49.5 30.1
2007 45.7 23.1
2008 46.9 22.4
Percent of reduced lunch
2006 11.0 7.8
2007 11.9 8.7
2008 11.9 8.6
Percent of free and reduced lunches
2006 60.5 37.9
2007 57.6 31.8
2008 58.8 31.0


Percentage of third graders in Escambia County Scoring in reading on the FCAT
  2005 2006 2007
Level 5 6 4 7
Level 4 27 31 28
Level 3 32 36 33
Level 2 12 13 14
Level 1 23 15 19


Percentage of third graders in Santa Rosa CountyScoring in reading on the FCAT
  2005 2006 2007
Level 5 12 10 12
Level 4 41 47 46
Level 3 30 32 28
Level 2 8 6 8
Level 1 8 5 7


Number of third graders scoring at Level 1 in reading on the FCAT
  Escambia Santa Rosa
2002 899 226
2003 758 130
2004 882 150
2005 738 137
2006 492 68
2007 596 126


In both counties, students were given the opportunity to attend summer school in hope the necessary skills would be acquired to pass on to fourth grade.

Summer School
Number of students participating in summer school - June, 2007

Scoring on the FCAT Escambia Santa Rosa
Level 1 433 89
Level 2 51 21
Level 3 or higher 2 0


During the summer of 2007, committee members spoke with Dr. Kathleen Heubach at Spencer Bibbs Elementary School where her graduate students were using the Howard Street Tutoring Program. This program involved graduate-student volunteers tutoring children with a teacher making the lesson plans.

Tutoring Programs
UWF is a supplier of tutoring programs under Title 1, and during the 2006-2007 school term, was one of 30 providers in Escambia County with 1350 children participating. Of these, 800 have selected UWF as their provider and are attending centers in 18 schools. The UWF program includes bus service after the school tutoring session. Of the Title I budget, 20% is allocated for tutoring and transportation. In the Escambia County School district, it amounts to $1200 per child.

Number of Students Retained
School year 2007-2008 Escambia Santa Rosa
Actually retaind in 3rd grade 209 23
Passed by portfolio 224 9
Passed due to Good Cause Exception 163 36
Retained for second time in 3rd grade 10 0
Number who already had been retained in a previous grade 99 7


Good cause exemptions are given to:

  • students who show through a teacher-developed portfolio that they can read on grade level

  • students who show an acceptable level of performance on the alternate reading test (the SAT)
  • imited English-proficient students who have had less than two years of instruction in an English for Speakers of Other Languages program
  • students with disabilities whose individual educational plan (IEP) shows that it is not appropriate for them to take the FCAT
  • students with disabilities who take the FCAT and whose IEP or 504 Plan says that they have received intensive remediation in reading for more than two years but who still show a deficiency in reading and who were previously retained in kindergarten through grade 3
  • students who have received intensive remediation in reading for two or more years but who still have a deficiency in reading and who have already been retained in kindergarten through grade 3 for a total of two years


Of concern are the numbers of students who already have been retained in a previous grade and those who were repeating third grade for the second time.

Since NCLB has not been in operation long enough to determine the percentage of students graduating who have repeated one or more grades, or the number of students who have been retained who have dropped out of school before graduation, the committee perused research. The research indicates that, “grade retention is one of the most powerful predictors of dropping out of high school.” Research does show the earlier the retention the better and that parent agreement is essential.

During the fall of 2008, the committee obtained the FCAT scores of Escambia and Santa Rosa retained third-graders, those taking the FCAT the second time they were in grade three. These results were not readily available since this information is not required under NCLB. The committee greatly appreciated the assistance of Malcolm Thomas, Escambia County and Sharon Diamond, Santa Rosa County.

Repeating Third Graders - FCAT SCORES
(for students repeating third grade and taking the FCAT for the second time as a third grader)

Date number of third grade repeaters taking FCAT number scoring at Level 1 the second time %
Escambia County
2005 307 134 44%
2006 307 94 31%
2007 192 71 37%
2008 176 60 34%
Totals 982 359 37%
Santa Rosa County
2005 55 11 20%
2006 46 9 20%
2007 42 9 21%
2008 29 5 17%
Totals 172 34 20%


Between 2005 and 2008, the percentage of retained third-graders taking the FCAT for the second time and scoring at the Lowest Level, Level 1:

ESCAMBIA COUNTY                       37%
SANTA ROSA COUNTY                   20%


  1. The beneficial effect of mandatory retention in third grade for a significant number of children in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties is questionable.

  2. Longitudinal data or long-term tracking of individual student progress should be required under NCLB and Florida’s A+ plan. Currently there is no established process for determining whether or not an individual student receives any long-term benefit from retention.

  3. Academic research does not favor mass retention as a viable means for determining student success in school or in learning. Our study seems to validate that premise.

  4. Consideration needs to be given to educational programs rather than continued retention for those children not performing successfully at the third-grade level

  5. Research indicates there is a relationship between socioeconomic status and school success or student test score-performance. Our study seems to validate that research..

Consensus Question

LWVPBA supports longitudinal tracking of student performance to determine whether retention is a viable means of insuring future-student academic success.




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