Parents, YOU are the Boss… and you can say NO.

(This post has been updated to include information from the FL DOE, reported in the Tampa Bay Times May 1, 2015)

Across the state of Florida, some parents of rising fourth graders are being informed that their child is being retained in the third grade because their FSA scores were in the bottom quintile (20%) of the state – no matter what that score may be. Some are being promoted, but are assigned to remedial reading class, often unnecessarily.  Some middle and high school students are being made to sacrifice electives for remedial or Intensive Reading/Math.

In the absence of a valid FSA score, schools are making these critical decisions based on the data they have, which may be from progress monitoring tests, such as Achieve 3000 or Discovery Ed, etc. You may not even be aware that your child has been taking other standardized tests besides the FSA and classroom tests. Well, now you know. Some are even using FCAT scores from TWO years ago!  How valid is THAT?!!  In other words, districts have had to improvise in the face of no real guidance from the state, with little consistency from one district to the next. This is meaningless. If every student passed the test, there would still be a bottom 20% of those passing students, to whom a test would say, “You failed.” Children are being retained and remediated, regardless of what their actual scores are – in spite of the fact that the FSA validity report is not due back to the state until Sept. 1, 2015.

This is happening in certain districts and within those districts, only in certain schools.

But why is this happening and why is it happening so inconsistently?

From POLITICO Florida –

Schools in ‘holding pattern’ while they await testing study

Since state law requires the tests be used in determining whether third graders are promoted, the state Department of Education released to schools the lowest quintile of third graders’ scores,

those “at risk” of retention. The department also alerted schools where students passed ninth-grade  English and algebra exams, which are graduation requirements.

For other grades, districts may choose whether to use the test scores in promotion decisions. Stakeholder groups said schools had to move forward without the scores…

Vince Verges, assistant deputy education commissioner for accountability, research and measurement, said it will be up to districts what to do with the results.

From the Tampa Bay Times article, Florida education department clarifies rules on student retention…

The Florida Department of Education issued its notes from an April 29 conference call, in which it aimed to explain the current state of affairs to superintendents. Here’s what it said:

Regarding third grade English Language Arts, it is clearly stated in the bill that we will determine the students who are in the bottom quintile to produce a list of students statewide who are at risk of retention. We will provide to each district their students that are in the statewide bottom quintile. The list will then be disaggregated by districts and provided to each of you as an alphabetical list of your students. You will receive the names of your students only, who are in the bottom quintile of the state. We will not be providing the percentile associated with each student, as that would be inappropriate when we consider that the scores have not been through all validity checks. 

The law indicates that the list is to be provided for consideration by the district to then determine whether or not they will retain the student [emphasis added] or use other means as outlined in s. 1008.25(6)(b), F.S., for grade placement in either third or fourth grade and to be considered with other information that the district has for each student to provide supports for success in fourth grade. The statute is clear that for this year of transition the districts will notify parents and provide evidence.


House  Bill 7069 states: 

“Each student who does not achieve a Level 3 or above on the statewide, standardized English Language Arts assessment….must be evaluated to determine the nature of the student’s difficulty, the area of academic need, and strategies for providing academic supports to improve the student’s performance.”

1) It does not say that all students scoring below a level 3 will be placed in remedial reading class. 
2) Remedial reading class is not an evaluation.
3) At this time scores have not been released…. no 1,2, 3, etc.
4) If your student has been put into remedial reading, without just cause, and you don’t feel it would benefit your child…..SAY NO.

Confusion and misapplication of the law is happening because districts have been left to decide for themselves, what to do about the children who were flagged for being in the bottom quintile – no matter what their actual scores are – Do we promote, retain or remediate them?

In spite of decades of solid research by child development and education experts, which overwhelmingly conclude that third grade retention is not only not beneficial for children, but is, in fact, harmful, the Florida legislature chose to maintain this draconian policy. Current research shows that retention is harmful, not only for children in the third grade, but in all elementary grades.


The ultimate decision for ANY class placement for your child rests with YOU, the parent. Your consent is required. And you don’t have to give it. It doesn’t matter if you are told that your child’s retention or remediation was a state, district or school decision.

You can simply say, “No.”

If you don’t want your child remediated, DON’T give your consent or permission for the school to do so. It may not be easy to do this with your school, but it really is that simple.  If you get resistance from your school, KEEP CALM and remember that YOU are the final authority on the education of YOUR child.  

You may wish to respectfully ask for the statutory citation mandating retention or remediation on the basis of this test score, at this time. They will not be able to do so… because it does not exist.  

If you are told that your child is being retained because he/she needs intervention, you can insist that your child be promoted and also be provided the appropriate intervention(s), which may require a 504 or an IEP (Individual Education Plan).  According to the preponderance of serious research, this practice is considered the best approach by veteran educators, education researchers, and developmental psychologists.  These are not decisions to be made lightly. These decisions should never be made on the basis of a single test score, which denotes only a snapshot of a single moment in time.  Any decisions about promotion, retention or remediation should be made thoughtfully with the team of parents, teachers, administrators and guidance counselors.  


This document below is an example of a common sense decision made at the school level. It affirms that the decision is parents’ to make. Kudos to the school leadership for supporting their students and for empowering parents.

Lake Nona MS letter

I must confess to secretly doing a happy dance because the folks at Lake Nona Middle School named their document, “Intensive Reading Opt Out Contract“… ;)

This post is written by Sandy Stenoff.

Parent Resources:

  1. Additional information and support for Third Grade can be found at the Opt Out Florida Third Grade group.
  2. Statewide information and support is available in the Opt Out Orlando Facebook group.
  3. A support network for your district may be found here.

Notable research on the practice of third grade retention:

  1. Grade Retention – Info for Parents by Jimerson
  2. Grade Retention – Guide for Parents by Jimerson
  3. Grade Retention & Promotion- Guide for Educators by Jimerson Renshaw Skokut
  4. Grade Retention – Fact sheet by Jimerson
  5. Grade Retention’s Negative Effects – Ineffective and possibly harmful
  6. Alternatives to grade retention- Jimerson Pletcher Kerr
  7. 10 Strategies to Fight Mandatory Retention – by Sue Whitney for Wrightslaw
  8. New Research Suggests Repeating Elementary Grades – even Kindergarten – is Harmful


The Best Thing… Ever.

Joshua Katz is the kind of teacher every parent wants for their child… the kind who believes the work of students is LEARNING, not testing; the kind who sees children as #morethanascore.  It’s the beginning of the school year, so he created an inspiring Video Syllabus for his new students.

…Lucky students.

This week, he was featured in a compelling piece in Mother Jones Magazine, with Opt Out Orlando’s Cindy Hamilton:

Joshua Katz says he tests his students using a variety of challenges and quizzes, but the only ones that officially count are the fill-in-the-bubble variety. “They tell me I must have data, and they don’t consider tests data unless it comes from multiple-choice,” Katz told me.

Joshua Katz has been a Math Teacher at University High School in Orlando, Florida for the past eight years and is an outspoken advocate for public education.

Here he is on the Fox’s, “Getting Schooled” in a segment called, “Local Teachers Concerned About Student Testing.”

See his viral TedX Talk: The Toxic Culture of Education


Permission Denied… So What?

Many people have expressed anger and disappointment about the Opt Out amendment not passing in the Senate yesterday.

The chamber voted 64 to 32 against the amendment, proposed by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) amid a backlash against mandated standardized tests. “Parents, not politicians or bureaucrats, will have the final say over whether individual children take tests,” he said. (Washington Post, July 14, 2015)

Newsflash!  Parents already have the final say in EVERYTHING about our children.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

The #OptOut movement isn’t about asking for permission. It’s about you doing what you know you have to do to effect permanent change.

I believe the bill will pass in some form or another, because they have to do something and they’re serious about reining in Arne’s office. Although many hoped, I don’t know anyone who seriously believed the amendment to give parents the right to opt out would have passed. The fact is that the amendment was not going to remove the high stakes from testing, which provides the teeth to education reform, and without which the reform agenda would disintegrate.

Had it passed, it would guarantee that the high stakes would continue to be attached because parents would then have the sanction of the government to choose to let their children test or not. No school district would be volunteering this information.  Schools would STILL be mandated to test your child incessantly, to waste precious instruction time on meaningless, invalid testing.  Read one account of a teacher’s day here.  I posted it in a national group and teachers from all over the country responded that this is what they, too, face on a daily basis.  Being granted the permission for a right I already have would not change this daily scenario in our schools.

Currently, the state with the loosest rules about testing is also the state with the most stringent gag rules on teachers about testing.

In California, right now, parents have the legal right to refuse state testing by simply sending in a note. “Matthew will not be testing this week. Thank you.” Thats it. Nothing else needed. No drama. The one-sentence amendment which will be repealed in six years, reads:

60615. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a parent’s or guardian’s written request to school officials to excuse his or her child from any or all parts of the assessments administered pursuant to this chapter shall be granted. (Added by Stats. 1995, Ch. 975, Sec. 1. Effective January 1, 1996. Inoperative July 1, 2020. Repealed as of January 1, 2021, pursuant to Section 60601.)

I ask myself repeatedly – If Californians can refuse the test with no consequences, why doesn’t every parent in California just opt out? In California, teachers are not only not allowed to inform parents of this right, they are contractually and strictly PROHIBITED from doing so, at risk of termination.

The growth and force of the opt out movement has been strongest where reforms have been the harshest for children and teachers – New York, Florida, Colorado, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New Mexico. These are the states where legislators have had to heed their constituents and have actually begun to enact better legislation regarding accountability. (I didn’t say perfect, or in some cases, even good legislation.)

In California, it doesn’t count against the child if they don’t test. But schools continue to lose precious instruction time because teachers are still forced to test, as much as ever. So the question is, If the test doesn’t count, why test them? Why are they collecting all of this data? What are they doing with all of this data? Is this all only for accountability?

From United Opt Out’s recent statement:  “Why UOO Opposes ESEA(ECAA) and Supports the Necessity of Revolution:

The legislators revising ESEA who support “less testing” or a “reduction of federal involvement” embrace little more than an appeasement to the bigger testing refusal movement and do little or nothing to challenge the existing power structures. The same corporate-driven entities remain cozily in their position of POWER making damaging, profit-driven decisions about public education.

I agree with this statement.  Nothing less than the complete removal of the stakes attached to testing will satisfy us.  Until the high stakes are removed from testing and we can use multiple measures of authentic assessment, which do not harm children, teachers or OUR public schools, we will continue to refuse these tests.

Besides our own, the children, who would be most harmed by this bill, are the ones we fight hardest for – the ones whose families are without a voice, the ones Bernie Sanders refers to as “those who live in the shadows.”

Parents still have the right to opt out, and have always had the right to do so. We don’t NEED the government’s permission to do so. So let’s just put our heads down and move forward.

OPT OUT.  YOU must be the #PublicEdRevolution.

Be The PubEdRevolution

For more information, help and support regarding opting out, please go to:  Opt Out Orlando on Facebook

High-stakes, Standardized Tests Are “Master’s Tools,” Not Tools for Social Justice

The Opt Out Florida Network:

Paul Thomas is, perhaps, the most incisive education blogger. He writes critically about current national policies in public education. His blogposts are always informative, insightful, and thoroughly referenced.

Here, he addresses the misguided arguments of those who would assert that high stakes testing is needed to protect the interests of poor children and children of color.

Originally posted on the becoming radical:

Christina Duncan Evans argues that the high-stakes testing opt-out movement “ignores a major function of testing,” which she identifies as: “A major reason we use standardized tests is to make the case that there’s large-scale educational injustice in our nation.”

As an advocate for educational equity and social justice, Evans explains:

States don’t have a very good track record of providing equitable access to education to all of their students, and the federal government should ensure that American school quality is consistent. This has made me an advocate of standardized testing, following the logic that we can’t solve achievement gaps unless we measure them first.

Before examining this commitment to standardized testing (also found among civil rights organizations), I want to highlight that public education and state government have had a long history, continuing today, of failing miserably black, brown, and poor children and adults.

The evidence of lingering…

View original 849 more words

School Safety or Big Brother?

On April 6, 2015, Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) contracted with Texas computer security service, Snaptrends to monitor social-media messages posted from school campuses, from students or staff.  Snaptrend’s website reads: “Pioneering Location-Based Social Media Discovery – Cut through the noise of social chatter and quickly identify actionable insights.”

In response, Manatee County Attorney, Scott Martin has published a thoughtful and compelling article on his law firm’s blog. The original post can be found here.

He writes:

Big Brother or School Safety? District Monitoring of Social Media Sites

Florida’s Orange County School District recently announced that it will utilize automated software to monitor the social media pages of staff and students – sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The ostensible reason for this broadscale monitoring is “to proactively prevent, intervene and monitor situations that may impact students and staff.”

Orange County is apparently following a recent trend of law enforcement agencies who use this type of software to detect and prevent crime. However, I see a number of troubling issues with this approach in the context of a school district.

It’s one thing for a District to access the social media pages of staff and students as a tool to address an existing problem or specific complaint. Checking specific students’ social media pages might be an appropriate course in, for example, a District investigation into online bullying. A District might also be justified in checking an employee’s social media pages in an investigation into whether an employee improperly used sick leave on a particular day. (Free Legal Advice: Posting a Facebook picture of you on vacation on days when you called in sick is a very bad idea.).

However, Snaptrends is a type of social media scraper/aggregator that collects social media information in mass. The data are scooped up by an automated process without regard to the nature of the content – good, bad, or indifferent. The information collected is then analyzed according to parameters set by the District and made available to the District for review and further drill-down. Evidently, the data can in many instances be mapped to show exactly where the information originated.

The intent here is for the District to arm itself with information to prevent an issue before it becomes a problem. In the context of imminent harm to student safety, that makes much sense. One can hardly argue against a District doing whatever is necessary to prevent something on the scale of a school shooting. One can also see reason in using social media metadata (not personally identifiable data) to help Districts with resource allocation to combat major social issues like teen pregnancy, gang association, or illegal drug use.

But what guarantees are there that the social media information collected by the District will be limited to those benevolent purposes? What policies are in place? Who can access the data? What conclusions are being drawn from the data? Who is drawing those conclusions? What standards are they using in making decisions based on captured data? These are all questions that should be answered to the public’s satisfaction before any such tool is put in place.

I also question the privacy implications of use of such a tool. What if social media chatter suggests that two teachers went on vacation together? Or that a principal is gay? Or that a student owns a gun? All of the aforementioned activity is perfectly legal and should not in itself result in any intervention by the District. However, Districts may use the information provided by Snaptrends to bootstrap into further invasion of privacy.

The District might, for example, use these benign comments as justification for a formal investigation to determine whether there’s a “larger problem” under the surface. Our vacationing teachers could be having extramarital affairs. Maybe our gay principal is interested in sex with minors. Maybe our student owns an assault rifle. We won’t know unless the District formally investigates, right?

Even more insidious, the District might create a “watch list” of potentially problematic staff and students who will be subjected to more intense monitoring going forward. A District would do well to avoid this type of McCarthyism and invitation to challenges based on the chilling of constitutional rights. Guarantees against this sort of policing should be made crystal clear in a written District policy.

Also, I can’t help but wonder whether Snaptrends appreciates that contracting with a Florida state agency subjects it to Florida’s laws regarding public records. Any information it collects that meets the definition of “public record” will now be accessible by any member of the public unless it falls under a statutory exemption. Since these data are being collected in connection with the District’s official business, it appears to me that the definition of public record is met. I suspect that any such request would be met with resistance based on “trade secret” or “security” exemptions provided under Florida law. Either way, I predict lawsuits in the near future.

Finally, staff and students of Orange County Schools should educate themselves regarding Snaptrends’ “Social Media Content Privacy Policy” which is available on the Snaptrends website. It states that any person who feels their social media information has been improperly acquired can request its deletion. Whether information has been improperly acquired will depend on the circumstances of each situation, and will likely turn on whether the information was posted by the user for public view. However, it could also turn on whether Snaptrends’ acquisition of the information violated the social media site’s terms of service. Facebook, for example, has terms that prevent automated data collection unless expressly approved in writing by Facebook. Has Snaptrends fully complied with the rules of each social media site it scrapes? We will see.


Serious questions are being asked by concerned parents and teachers in Orange County now.  

Opt Out Orlando’s Cindy Hamilton will address these questions and more with the OCPS board at the June 9 school board meeting.  If this is a concern for you, you should plan to attend.

Tuesday, June 9 at 4:30PM
Edgewater High School (Map/Directions)
3100 Edgewater Drive
Orlando, FL 32804
These links may be of interest to you:

Mar 18 2015: Pearson admits to monitoring students’ social media use during its online tests – The Guardian

Nov 26 2014: Should Schools Monitor Students’ Social Media Use? – Insurance Journal

Oct 17 2014:  Southern Poverty Law Center entering fray over Huntsville school district’s social media monitoring –

Sep 9 2014:   Mark Cuban: Stop Making This Mistake on Social Media | Inc. Media – Mark Cuban

Oct 2 2013:    Students in social media: There’s monitoring & then there’s monitoring –

Sep 12 2013:  Should schools monitor kids on social media? –

Sammy Addo: “I did my job as a Third Grader.”

In Florida,

“due to an extreme delay in the scoring of the of Florida Standards Assessment (FSA), its unsubstantiated validity…. recent legislation (House Bill 7069), states that the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) is not expected to release FSA scores for Third Grade English Language Arts (ELA) until after the school year has ended.” (ABC News13, 05/05/15)

The law no longer mandates retention. (Tampa Bay Times, 04/29/15)  As a result, in some districts, such as Orange County, retention decisions for students of concern, will be at the discretion of a team, made up of parents, teachers and principals.  Other districts, such as Bay District Schools, have made policies of “no retention.”  Yet, in spite of the fact that test scores will not be validated until after the next school year begins, if they are validated at allDuval County, still threatens third graders with retention, even though they may be proficient readers, with the record to prove it.

We will have to wait until Sept 1 to learn whether the tests are valid or not – when the review panel is due to deliver their final report.

Eight year old Sammy Addo, from Brevard County had no doubt he was going to the fourth grade, in spite of having no test score, as he had opted out of the FSA.  

Sammy is 8 years old, and just completed the third grade in Brevard County, Florida.  His mom is Darcey Addo, a teacher, fierce education activist and 2016 school board candidate.

Last December, Sammy addressed the Brevard County School Board on high stakes testing – Watch him here.
This week, Sammy got the great news that he had been promoted to the fourth grade, even without a test score.  His mom had more faith in Sammy’s teachers to authentically assess his work via multiple measures (classwork and class tests for the entire year), than on a single high stakes test score on a single day.  She did sound research and tells #WhyIRefuse…just three of my reasons.” She shares how Sammy was promoted without a test score in, No FSA score? No problem! My 3rd grader is being promoted, yours can too!

Watch Sammy share his news with the Brevard County School Board:


My name is Sammy Addo. I am finishing third grade at Port Malabar Elementary this week. Next year I will be in fourth grade even though I did not take the Math or the Reading FSA.

I also did not take any of the three FAIR tests this year. I did not take either of the two BELLA tests, either of the two district math tests, the district science, or the district social studies tests. There are a lot of tests!

Even though I didn’t take those tests, I took all the tests that Mrs. Kelly gave me about things that she taught in our class. Those tests were how I proved what I learned. I did well and that is why I am going to fourth grade – my report card proves I did my job as a third grader.

Lots of people at school said I would have to stay back because I didn’t take the FSA, but I knew they were wrong.

I knew that my mom and dad wouldn’t tell me to do something that would be bad for me. They always say that one test on one day does not prove anything about me.

 – In third grade this year, I learned so much, that I wasn’t worried about being held back.
– I learned about Celiac disease and I won second place in my school science fair!

 – I researched John Lewis, one of my civil rights heroes.
 – I read the first four Harry Potter books and finished the Percy Jackson series.
 – I learned how to calculate area and perimeter.

There are lots more things I learned in third grade, but the point is that my teacher taught and I learned. My report card proves it – not an FSA score. I can’t wait for fourth grade to learn even more.

Way to go, Sammy!

If you are the parent of a Florida third grader, read how your child may be promoted without an FSA test score.
Per FL DOE K-12 Chancellor, Hershel Lyons (see p. 1, item 4):

…it appears that your district has chosen to pursue good cause exemptions for any student who does not have a score on the third grade ELA FSA. This is consistent with the technical assistance from the department (DOE).
Please continue to work with your district on the implementation of this local decision.

Therefore, if the DOE says promotion is a local decision, then ALL districts have the same authority.  If your district says otherwise, it is only because they choose not to use the authority granted them.  Push.  The priority of school districts should be the welfare of children.
In March, Darcey wrote an outstanding open letter to the Florida House and Senate on behalf of Opt Out Orlando. You can read it here.

Florida… Where The Number 1 Defines Children As Failures


IF you have fulfilled all graduation requirements (met the GPA requirement, passed the Algebra 1 EOC or the PERT and have all required credits), but you have not passed the FCAT, the SAT or the ACT… 



Find your voice

1.  E-mail a letter to the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) and request to see your graded FCAT. This is the only evidence they have for holding you back, yet you cannot see it. They won’t send it to you, but you need the paper trail and proof that you made the request. (

2.  E-mail your guidance counselor to request a “Score Inquiry”, again, for your graded FCAT. This is really the same process as Number 1 but on the school side. You may have to really push to get them to do this.

3.  Once you have been denied access to your graded test, in writing, by the FLDOE, contact us at Make sure you keep copies of ALL correspondence.

The ACLU is looking at this as a possible case to pursue in court.

4.  Contact your State Senator and House Representative. Make an appointment and meet with them. Tell them your story. Tell them why the current policy of high stakes testing is not working. Tell them that after 13 years of being a good student, you are entitled to that diploma. 

Find your Florida Senator here.

Find your Florida House Representative here.

5.  SPEAK TO THE PRESS. If you know of others, you could speak as a group. We can help with that.

Last year, 9,000 students across the State of Florida were denied a diploma, based solely on failing this single test. This year, in Lee County alone, there are over 2,000 Seniors who will not receive a regular diploma.

Students have the power to change this. We cannot do this for you.

Do not allow the State to define you as a failure based on a single test score. You are #MoreThanAScore.

FIND YOUR VOICE and take back the power to cause change for yourself and for those who will be right where you are next year.




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