Critical Information for Parents of Third Graders








This information is for parents of Florida’s third-grade students. It is designed to help parents understand what Florida law says about reading requirements for third-grade students and promotion to grade 4. It also describes what the school will do to help if your child is reading below grade level.


Florida law [section 1008.25(5), Florida Statutes (F.S.)] says that third graders who do not have a score of Level 2 or above on the statewide Florida Standards Assessment ̶English Language Arts (FSA-ELA) must be retained (not promoted to grade 4).

However, children who demonstrate the required reading level through a state-approved alternative standardized reading test or through a student portfolio can be granted a good cause exemption and be promoted to grade 4. A student will only be retained in grade 3 once.

If your child does not score at Level 2 or above, you will be notified by the school that your child will not be promoted to
grade 4 until he or she achieves the required reading level. Students who are retained must be given intensive instruction
in reading to help them catch up. You will be given information about the intensive instruction that will be provided to
help your child make progress in reading.

Note: Some students with disabilities, some English language learners (ELL) and some students who have already been retained can receive a good cause exemption and be promoted even though they are not reading at the required level. If your child is not eligible for the good cause exemption, you will be notified as to why your child is not eligible. Please refer to page three of this document for additional information.


This law means, “We are not going to give up on struggling students; we are going to invest in them.” The results should have a positive effect on our whole state. It will reduce the need for remedial education in middle and high school and may lower
dropout rates and juvenile delinquency. It will also help Florida develop the highly skilled workforce needed for a strong


The statewide FSA-ELA is based on the Language Arts Florida Standards (LAFS) and is designed to test Florida’s students on
more rigorous material. The standards ensure that students are on the path to graduating college and career ready. Florida’s
graduation requirements are aligned with college readiness and our standards are consistent across grade levels. Parents, teachers and administrators will be able to identify those children who need additional help earlier so that they can graduate college-ready.


The specific skills that students need in reading are described in the LAFS
http://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/5390/urlt/0081014-lafs.pdf. The standards describe what Florida students should
know and be able to do at each grade level. By the end of grade 3, students are expected to be able to read independently.
This means that they can read and understand words, sentences and paragraphs without help.

In order to meet the minimum reading requirements for the end of grade 3, students are asked to demonstrate at least a limited ability to determine the meaning of words using appropriate strategies, apply reading comprehension and literary analysis skills, and locate, interpret and organize information for a variety of purposes from grade-appropriate texts encompassing a range of complexity.


Reading is the core of the school day for young students. When you walk into a kindergarten, first-, second- or third-grade
classroom, you will find children learning to read. They may be talking about the sounds letters make, listening to the teacher read a story, reading aloud together, working on a computer reading program or talking and writing about what they have read.

Students are engaged in these activities because reading and comprehension are the foundations for all academic learning.
Students need strong reading skills in order to learn in all other school subjects, such as science, history, writing and even

Schools regularly assess the reading performance of all students in kindergarten through grade 3. This allows schools to identify students who are struggling with reading. If your child is reading below grade level, the school will let you know exactly what type of reading difficulty your child is having. The school will then develop a plan to provide special instruction in reading, such as individual help from teachers, aides, volunteer tutors and parents.


The FSA-ELA measures students’ progress on the LAFS. Students in grades 3–10 take the FSA-ELA
each spring. Third graders are tested in reading and mathematics. Their scores fall into one of five
levels: Level 5 is the highest; Level 1 is the lowest.

The third-grade FSA-ELA requires students to read stories that are approximately 500 words long and
answer questions about what they have read. The test also requires them to use charts, graphs, maps
and other materials to gather information to answer questions.

More information on the FSA-ELA may be accessed at https://fsassessments.org/.



When a third grader scores in the lowest level on the FSA-ELA, it warns us that the child is reading at a much lower level than is expected of third graders. Students who score Level 1 may not be able to recognize or sound-out new words or know their meaning.

These students may have trouble answering questions that identify a story’s main idea, main characters and order of events. They may not be able to use information from charts, graphs or maps to answer specific questions.


Retention does not mean that the child has failed. It does not mean that teachers or parents
are not working hard enough. It does mean that the child needs more instructional time and
help to catch up and meet grade 3 reading performance levels. The purpose of retention is to
give children who have substantial reading deficiencies more time and the intensive
instruction they need to catch up in reading.



A substantial reading deficiency must be addressed before students can move on to the more
difficult schoolwork of grade 4 and beyond. As students progress through the grades, the
text and tasks that are required for students to understand what they are reading are more complex. Textbooks become more difficult to understand; reading passages are longer. Students use reference books, websites and other written materials to do research for history reports, science projects and other schoolwork. Students who have trouble understanding what they read find it very difficult to keep up. Many students become frustrated when they try to tackle this schoolwork without necessary reading skills. For some students, this leads to years of difficulty in school and limited opportunities in adult life.


If the child can demonstrate the required reading level before the start of the next school year, he or
she may be promoted to grade 4. If the child achieves the required reading level during the next
school year, the child may be promoted to grade 4 mid-year. To be promoted to grade 4 mid-year,
the child must demonstrate mastery of the third-grade reading skills. This will ensure that the
student has made enough progress to be successful in grade 4. The student may be given a
standardized test, or the teacher may put together a portfolio of the student’s work. Additional
district requirements pertaining to mid-year promotion may be specified in the district’s Student
Progression Plan.



The district may offer retained third-grade students the opportunity of being served in a transitional instructional setting
containing both third and fourth grade students and designed to help them meet the fourth-grade LAFS, while continuing the remediation for the reading deficiency.


Schools are required to develop a progress monitoring plan (PMP) for each struggling
reader. Parents will be invited to participate in developing this plan. The PMP describes
the child’s specific reading difficulties and the intensive teaching practices that will be
used to help the child catch up in reading. This intensive instruction will be provided
during regular school hours in addition to the regular reading instruction.



Teachers in the early grades work on improving students’ skills in these six components
of reading.

1. Oral language provides the foundation for literacy development involving listening and speaking skills.

2. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds of spoken language. This includes noticing rhyme
and recognizing the separate, small sounds in words (phonemes).

3. Phonics is the understanding of the relationships between the written letters of the alphabet and the sounds of spoken
language. This knowledge allows a reader to “decode” words by translating the letters into speech sounds.

4. Fluency is the ability to read quickly, accurately and with proper expression. Fluent readers can concentrate on
comprehension rather than focusing all of their effort on decoding words.

5. Vocabulary includes all the words the reader can understand and use. The more words a child knows, the better he or she
will understand what is read. Knowing how words relate to each other is a building block that leads to comprehension.

6. Comprehension is the ability to understand what one has read. This includes
understanding the plot of a story or the information in an article. It also includes things
like recognizing the main idea of an article or being able to compare and contrast
different characters in a story.


Some third graders who score Level 1 on the FSA-ELA can be exempted from the retention
requirement and be promoted to grade 4. This is called a good cause exemption. Good cause
exemptions are given only to the following students:

• English Language Learners (ELL) students who have had less than two years of
instruction in an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program; or

• Students with disabilities whose Individual Educational Plan (IEP) indicates that participation in the statewide
assessment program is not appropriate, consistent with the requirements of State Board of Education rule; or

• Students who demonstrate an acceptable level of performance on a state-approved alternative standardized reading or
ELA assessment approved by the State Board of Education; or

• Students who demonstrate, through a student portfolio, that he or she is performing at least at Level 2 on the statewide
standardized assessment (The teacher selects the contents of the portfolio. The documents in the portfolio must show
that the student has mastered the LAFS that are assessed by the grade 3 FSA-ELA. Talk to your child’s teacher to
learn more, or go to https://www.flrules.org/gateway/ruleNo.asp?id=6A-1.094221 to view the State Board of
Education rule that addresses portfolios.); or

• Students with disabilities who participate in the statewide standardized assessment and whose IEP or 504 Plan reflects
that the student has received intensive remediation in reading and ELA for more than two years, but still demonstrates
a deficiency and was previously retained in kindergarten, grade 1, grade 2 or grade 3; or

• Students who have received intensive reading intervention for two or more years but still demonstrate a deficiency in
reading and who were previously retained in kindergarten, grade 1, grade 2 or grade 3 for a total of two years. A
student may not be retained more than once in grade 3.

If you believe your child may be eligible for a good cause exemption, talk to your child’s teacher. For a good cause exemption to be approved, the following steps must take place.

• The student’s teacher must submit documentation to the principal;

• The principal must review the documentation and decide whether or not the student should be promoted. If the
principal determines that the student should be promoted, the principal must make the recommendation to the school
district superintendent; and

• The school district superintendent must accept or reject the principal’s recommendation that the student be promoted.



Pam Stewart
Commissioner of Education