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Updated: 08/20/2014 08:00:02AM

Students may skip a grade more easily

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For parents who want their kids to skip a grade in school or take accelerated classes, the Polk County School Board recently made it a little easier when it OK’d a rewrite of the student progression plan.

Approved unanimously at last week’s board meeting, the revised plan allows parents, their child’s school principal and teacher some leeway in allowing a student to skip a grade or take advanced classes.

“It’s a solid plan and meets our needs,” said Board Member Hazel Sellers, about the revised plan. The new plan outlines for parents, administrators and teachers more clearly how students who have passed their classmates in learning achievements may be moved to a higher grade.

“I think a lot of parents have been waiting for this,” said Senior Director for Reading Jackie Bowen, after the board approved the first progression plan rewrite in two years.

Under the old plan, students had to score highly on national assessment tests or virtually ace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Also taken into consideration were the students’ age, maturity, motivation and evidence that the advancement would help the student.

Now, the team made up of the principal, the teacher and parent will decide whether a student can move up a class based not only on his or her scores, but on other considerations. Bowen adds that the teacher participation in these decisions will help make sure students aren’t moved up if they aren’t really ready.

“A lot of families think their child should move up,” Superintendent of Schools Kathryn LeRoy explained, “but we need very specific criteria on which to base our decisions because we don’t want to set students up to fail.”

For a K-3 student to skip a grade, the child has to show he or she can read beyond grade level and have mastered the math skills at higher levels. For fourth- and fifth-graders, students must be reading on level 5 on state reading and math tests plus a 5 or higher in writing and science. Also considered will be As and Bs on report cards, good attendance, good conduct and recommendations from both teachers and counselors.

Students also may accelerate in reading or math but stay in their classrooms, just use advanced materials, or take that particular class in another classroom.

“We don’t want to hold kids back,” Bowen said.

The changes to the plan aren’t just for gifted students, school officials said, but to all students who hope to move up a grade at the end of the year. All elementary students, from K-5, will have to show “mastery of state standards” in language arts, but for 1-5, the students will have to reach the same levels in math and science for grades 4-5.

There also are minor changes to the promotion plans for secondary schools, the most significant of which will allow high school principals to designate which students are freshmen, sophomores, juniors or seniors.

“Those classifications are more for social perks, and not necessarily relevant in performance or grade level learning,” another school system official said. “Schools are changing and we’re opening a lot of doors for students.”

The progression plan will be revisited by the board in October after school officials have reviewed the implications of a recently passed state law that affects exceptional education and struggling middle school students.

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