TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – A judge ruled Friday that school districts can’t hold third-graders back just because they score badly on a mandated standardized reading test, saying that classroom grades and teacher evaluations have to be considered.

The ruling by Judge Karen Gievers is in response to a lawsuit filed by parents protesting a law first put in place by then-Gov. Jeb Bush that ties advancement to fourth grade to performances on reading tests. The parents instructed their children to fill their name in on the test, and then not answer any questions. Children in six counties were told they’d have to repeat third grade even though they otherwise proved they were reading at or above grade level.

Gievers chastised the counties named in the suit for not advancing the students and the state Department of Education for allowing the practice, saying the children involved had shown they could sufficiently read.

Bush signed a bill requiring that students perform at a certain level on standardized reading tests to be advanced to fourth grade. The Legislature later allowed a “portfolio” option to advance students even if they didn’t perform well, taking into consideration classroom work and teacher recommendations.

But the six counties named were refusing to promote students, saying they didn’t participate in the Florida Standards Assessments. Gievers said that participation was not clearly defined in law, and by opening the test and signing their names, the children participated, even if they didn’t answer questions. She said students who are reading at a sufficient level, despite not answering questions on the test, were harmed by being forced to repeat third grade and the districts should have considered the portfolio option.

The counties named in the suit are Broward, Orange, Osceola, Hernando, Pasco and Seminole.

Department of Education spokeswoman Cheryl Etters wouldn’t comment on the ruling, saying state lawyers were still reviewing it.

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