Why My Kids Are Opting Out of the FSA – by Lynne Rigby

Lynne Rigby is the mother of five children, a former teacher, and a photographer who lives in Seminole County, Florida.  Last year, she wrote eloquently about withdrawing her child from public school.

It went a little viral:
Parent: Why I can’t ‘in good conscience’ leave my kids in public school

She might have done it again. Beautifully. Again.

Hot off the presses:

WHY MY KIDS ARE “OPTING OUT” OF THE FSA

I sent my opt out letter to the middle school on Friday. And I have started this conversation many times with my friends, but you know how those go…you get sidetracked and somehow end up talking about what happened on Scandal last week.

First of all, everyone who knows me knows I’m a rule follower…always have been. I’m the “good girl.” Apparently, I’m the “white suburban mom.”My kids are also good kids. They don’t cause trouble, they follow rules. They have a strong sense of right and wrong. The decision for my kids to refuse the test was not taken lightly. I would never put my kids in a position to fight what they perceive as MY fight. I would never put them in a situation that causes them distress or could jeopardize their academic success.

What does opting out really mean? Florida statute dictates that kids in Florida Public Schools must participate in the state assessments.  “Participate” is the key word here. When your child opts-out or refuses the test, they will sit for the test and sign in or break the seal, thus participating and then end the test. This will result in an NR2, which indicates that there is not enough data to score the test.  This year, the Seminole County School Board has stated that students who opt out of FSA will not be harmed in any way and will be treated with the utmost respect. Therefore, my kids and I felt safe to opt-out.

My reasons…

“My stance on high-stakes testing has been well publicized and documented. I would never put my kids into MY fight but they are well aware of the effect that these tests have had on their school year and education. None of us are okay with cramming 180 days of curriculum into about 100-120 days. They are good boys, they are rule followers and they were only okay with this after Seminole County came out with this PDF.

This has nothing to do with how they will perform on the test, because they’ll do better than most. This is because high-stakes testing is wrong and this test (I have taken all the practice tests) is not a valid tool to measure their knowledge and progress. I am positive that their teachers can tell me right now where they’re having problems and where they excel. When you have hours of test prep, it becomes less about what they know and much more about how they can take a test. This age of high stakes testing is an utter nightmare for students and teachers and because teachers and administrators have been threatened by Pam Stewart, it is falling upon the parents and students to take a stand.”

Lynne is also a member of the Opt Out Seminole on Facebook, which advocates for multiple measures of authentic assessments, that do not punish children, teachers, and their schools.

Lynne’s children are fortunate to live in Seminole County, where the Superintendent and School Board have chosen to treat children who opt out of testing respectfully and ethically as a matter of policy.

Can you just imagine?


Adult Business…On The Backs Of 8 Year Olds

Florida schools will begin administering the FSA on Monday, March 2… The pressure is on to assure the data is collected at all costs.

Last week, the Florida Department of Education (FL DOE) handed down instructions for handling opt outs to districts: OCPS Parent Notification Letter

A handful of districts have chosen to be respectful of parents’ choice to refuse the FSA this year… others have not.  Seminole County has been courageous in this regard and issued a comprehensive FSA Question and Answer Guide.

Seminole FSA QA

In the absence of the “whole truth” from the DOE, this clarification has been needed to quell the confusion and fear-mongering that was so cunningly targeted at parents and teachers. Seminole County’s Guide was the first bit of truth to come out of any district since the commissioner issued her chilling letter. Parents across the state have been asking the same of their districts.  So far, only Brevard, Hillsborough, Lee, and Polk Counties have joined Seminole County in similarly supporting children and families statewide. We are grateful for this demonstration of true leadership.

On Thursday, however, when asked by a TV reporter for her position on choice testing in Orange County, Supt. Barbara Jenkins responded,

“We are hopeful that parents won’t have children’s educational careers at risk over this adult issue, so we have no provision for opting out.”

She was, at the time, accepting a check for $10.3 Million from Gov. Rick Scott for the state’s School Recognition Program, awarded based on last year’s test scores. That statement protects the state’s interests, not our children’s.  To this, we say:

“WE, in the opt out movement, are no longer confident that our children’s well-being is the state’s priority over these adult issues, and have therefore sought and found provisions for opting out.  We refuse to continue to fuel the testing machine with our children’s data.  WE WANT OUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS  BACK AND WE ARE DONE.”

On Friday, Supt. Jenkins underscored the district’s position by sending this e-mail to parents. But that was not enough. The message also went out as a robo-call and in text messages, all in the space of an hour. Supt. Jenkins is Florida’s 2013 District Data Leader of the Year. Her message is clear. We want the data… and we will have it.

Jenkins E-mail 022715

As a parent, I am embarrassed and ashamed that these statements represent my school district.

What greater “undue burden” has any parent placed on our children, as young as eight years old, than the state’s burden of excessive high-stakes testing to harvest data, to secure school funding, and to threaten job security for teachers? THESE ISSUES are the real adult issues. The mandates, policies, rules, and statutes attaching the highest stakes to testing have already been forced upon the backs of our children by punitive federal and state laws, and are implemented and enforced by school districts.

The Superintendent is correct when she states that there is no option to opt out of the FSA. Opting Out has never been an option, and it is still not an “option”. No parent or student is asking for permission to opt out of the test. It has always been a parent’s and a student’s RIGHT to do so. Parents and students can still make that choice, regardless of the Commissioner’s letter.

What can you do to protect your child from having to bear such a burden?

Your parental mandate to protect the well-being of your child morally supersedes any law of the land to provide “accountability” to the powers that be. You can refuse to go along without question simply because it is mandated.

When parents make the decision for their child to opt out, some express fear or hesitation, others tell us they have been repudiated, over placing the burden of opting out on young children, such as Supt. Jenkins implies repeatedly. The daily burden of excessive, punitive high stakes tests on children is a far greater burden for them to bear than refusing the test will ever be. This burden is not imposed by parents. Children are really on the front lines for matters that have nothing to do with their actual learning. They are there at the behest of the state, NOT parents. And you do not have to offer them up like little lambs.

When children, especially young children, are asked to bear the burden of performing on a single test, or else… in order to ensure their promotion, graduation, possible retention and/or remediation, whether their teacher’s contract is renewed, whether their school stays open, whether their school gets the right grade to ensure adequate funding, it is oppressive and abusive. There is no way that it cannot be. THESE are adult concerns and have no place in any child’s education. To allow children to participate in this farce is to condone and perpetuate these oppressive and abusive policies. High stakes testing distorts the relationship of trust between teachers and students.

Is the business of our school districts and schools to support our children in learning to love learning so that they can become curious, questioning, independent, engaged, productive and contributing citizens – in other words, whole human beings? Or is the state’s chief concern the implementation of state mandates, no matter the human cost?

Some have expressed concern that students who opt out harm their teachers and schools by denying test scores and data. Proper refusals do NOT count against teachers and schools. Furthermore, THIS is the very reason why we MUST refuse by opting out: we do not send our children to school for the purpose of providing data, with which to protect their teachers and schools. THIS is adult business.

Opting out is not easy. It is not an action parents choose without great consideration of all of the consequences. It is our last resort, in order to bring to bear the appropriate pressure on legislators to effect positive, meaningful, and lasting change to the laws governing public education.

Since last June, Opt Out Orlando has helped parents, teachers and former teachers to start their own local Opt Out groups in 26 separate districts across the state of Florida. In this way, parents and teachers have locked arms and have become empowered to address their specific concerns and to advocate for the children in their local communities.  We also advocate strongly for teachers. And we have organized thousands of parents and teachers, who work tirelessly in support of meaningful legislation, with which we hope to return authentic assessments and real accountability to public education in Florida.

It is our hope that as Monday looms large, that the Department of Education will provide guidance to all districts, with which to respectfully deal with families who choose to refuse these tests on moral grounds.

If school districts continue to put the admittedly unreasonable and illegitimate demands of the state above the welfare of our children, this grassroots movement will continue to grow. Since Supt. Jenkins’ campaign of intimidation yesterday, we have been VERY busy approving all the new parents requesting to join Opt Out Orlando.

Until we have multiple measures of authentic assessments to guide our children’s education, that do not threaten and punish children, teachers and schools, we will continue to refuse these high stakes tests, and we will continue to grow this movement.

Tweet: bit.ly/AdultBiz

NOTE:  It is important to note here that although Polk County has issued virtually the same policy for children and testing and test refusals as Seminole County, they have sent the most threatening directive to teachers – threatening them for not reporting POTENTIAL opt outs, of which they may be aware.  This is blatant intimidation and it is unconscionable.

Links to Resources:

REFUSE THE FSA in 3 Easy Steps

Opt Out Orlando’s Open Letter to the Florida House and Senate – Feb 19 2015

Opt Out Documents

Opt Out Groups by District

Why You Can Boycott Standardized Tests Without Fear of Federal Penalties to Your School

FairTest – List of 850+ test optional colleges

What Opt Out Is NOT


High-stakes Testing IS Child Labor

For several years now, our children have been forced to produce test scores for their teachers, schools, and districts. They also work tirelessly to produce data for the testing and curriculum corporations, who then turn around and use our children’s data to garner future profits. As if this is not enough, the state has recently forced our schools to give up weeks of valuable instructional time so our children can “field test” the latest version of the Florida Standards Assessment and “load test” the technological infrastructure. Simply put, our children are being used – by the schools, the state, and the corporations – to make sure all the kinks are worked out prior to the official test dates.

The International Labor Organization’s definition of child labor is, “work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development.” Child labor also “is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children”; it “interferes with their schooling”; and it requires them to “attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.” Does this sound familiar?

Thanks to high-stakes testing policies, corporations, states, districts, and schools across the country are engaged in child labor practices: our children work and test so adults can profit.

According to state law, “Florida labor laws require employers to grant a meal period of at least 30 minutes to employees under the age of 18 who work for more than 4 hours continuously. Florida Stat. 450.081(4).” Most of our children don’t get a full 30 minutes for lunch. Furthermore, in most good companies, employees are typically provided a 15-20 minute break when they work more than 6 hours.

If corporations, states, districts, and schools are going to continue to require our children to labor like this, then shouldn’t they also be required to uphold good labor practice? Let’s call it what it is: high-stakes testing is child labor.

And if they are going to continue to harvest our children’s data, then we should demand that this inhumane system give our children a 30 minute lunch break and a 20 minute recess every single day.

 


Student to School Board: “Education is not a business and I am not a product.

Kyana Julian is tiny, but don’t let that fool you.  She speaks with a big, powerful voice.  She is a high school sophomore, one of a handful of students in Orange County who are helping to kickstart a student movement to take back their education at Opt Out Florida Students, a public Facebook group.

The group’s descriptions reads: “A place for students to learn about and discuss their own fight against high stakes testing. A forum to begin a student led revolution to claim their education as their own, guided by Opt Out administrators from across the country.”

Kyana J #Morethanascore

Watch as she confidently addresses the board of Orange County Public Schools on February 11, 2015 in this video link:  Education Is Not A Business and I Am Not A Product

Here is the transcript of her speech:

My name is Kyana Julian and I am a sophomore at University High School, I am here to address standardized testing. In the first week of school, teachers always go over the rules and expectations – they tell us that if we feel we are being bullied, that we are to report that to the school. Well, what if we feel that our school is bullying us? To be specific, what if the bully is the state by making the standardized test count for such high stakes? By making us feel as if we are just numbers on a data sheet? The test makes teachers run in fear and think, “If I actually teach the way my students actually need me to teach, I could lose my job.” It makes students question, but not in good way… it makes us question in sad way. We question if we will pass or fail, and from what I have been hearing the most from my friends and classmates is just “Oh, I am going to fail this test.”

Before I continue, I would like to make it clear that I come here on behalf of my fellow students. I’m talking about my friends who are not here because they are too afraid to speak and some who actually are so unaware of what is going on, because all their school lives they have been ignored and told to “just do what you’re told.” We feel very bullied.

Our education is a beautiful gift. In fact, I consider education an art. But my experience is that our school asks us to do things that are not in our best interest. The test isn’t used to improve how my teacher teaches me, so it comes down to politics. It’s as if all we care about is data, and who has the highest test scores. There is more focus on achieving “high test scores” than there is on actual learning. We have completely lost the value and meaning behind the word “education”. In my opinion, education is the most powerful weapon of all time against ignorance and it can help us change the world, but I think that our weapon against ignorance is just sadly collecting dust.

There is so much more to teaching than just teaching to the test and being judged by a single test score… and there is so much more to learning than just learning how to take a test. We are not being educated. All we are learning is how to take tests. My friends and I are not afraid of tests. We don’t mind taking tests that tell our teachers what we know and what we still need to know. But standardized tests don’t do that. We want to know why we have to take so many tests – more than the state requires. Benchmark tests include material we haven’t even been taught, but they are still being graded even though the district said they are not supposed to count for a grade. It is wrong for me to be used as statistical data without my parents’ knowledge or permission… to provide data that does not even help my education. I want to actually learn my subjects in depth, not just how to pass the test with a high test score. The practice tests for math test our computer skills more than our actual mathematical knowledge. We are forced to work quickly through Algebra 2 to get all the material in because the test will come well before the end of the year. Algebra 2 has so much wonderful mathematical information that we would like to learn in depth, but we won’t even have that opportunity, because of the test. This is unfair to us and to our teachers.

I know that tests are a reality of life… especially the ACT and SAT. Those tests are important, but they are optional and if I fail it, I still have other options. If I don’t pass the SAT or ACT, there are over 850 wonderful colleges that are test-optional and will still accept me, based on my transcript. I am a good student and my grades are not a concern for me, but I don’t do well on standardized tests and even though I am a good student, I could be denied my diploma. This is unfair to me and to the students who really need help to read.

I think a big problem is that important decisions are being made about education by people who mean well, but who do not really understand education. I would like our education system to be determined less by people who know nothing about education and more by teachers and principals, who know us and know what we really need, because no two students are the same. The majority of important decisions should be made by people who experience the education system and actually work with students in a classroom on a daily basis. Just because someone has been a student, does not mean they understand how to teach students and how students actually learn.

Education is not a business and I am not a product. I am a human being, with hopes and dreams and the willingness to work hard for that. My friends and I deserve more than our education is providing to us today.

Thank you for your time.


Orange County Student Tells School Board What’s Wrong with Education

Last November, Kiana Hernandez addressed the board of Orange County Public Schools. The transcript of her speech and coverage in the Orlando Sentinel is here:  One Test Should Not Determine My Future

Kiana addressed the Board again on February 11, 2015.  Here is the video of her second powerful address:  Orange County Student Tells School Board What’s Wrong With Education Today

Although Kiana has yet to pass the FCAT or earn a concordant score on the ACT, she has, so far, received four letters of acceptance from colleges, some of which have stated that her acceptance is partially in response to her taking the responsibility and initiative to fearlessly advocate for herself by speaking up for her own education.

 

 


Open Letter to the Members of the Florida House and Senate

February 19, 2015

Members of the Florida House and Senate,

Florida’s assessment statutes remain in a constant state of fluctuation. However, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) foundation, upon which the requirements were built, is straightforward. Among the NCLB requirements of state-mandated tests is that they are to be “valid, reliable and of adequate technical quality,” and that they “objectively measure academic achievement, knowledge, and skills” (SAAP, 2007, p. 4). To ensure that states meet these and the other requirements, the United States Department of Education outlines a transparent peer review process for states, citing the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing. This process ensures that the state selected assessment is valid, reliable, and technically sound.

In that the State of Florida has not met the expectation required by NCLB, administering the FSA as a state mandate is both impermissible and unconscionable.

Consequently, the prudent course of action includes:

  • As a way to evaluate the efficacy of the FSA, use collected data from “field tests” in the 2014-15 school year and compare with the Florida Assessment for Instruction in Reading (FAIR) data which has a demonstrated predictive validity of .80 to .90 (depending on the subgroup). This means that the State must release the FSA and the results to administrators and teachers for evaluation and data disaggregation. For meaningful assessment of the FSA, the test must be made available to subject matter experts to examine content validity. Transparency in the process will also begin to restore lost confidence in the State Department of Education.
  • With respect to the contractual obligation between American Institutes for Research (AIR) and Commissioner Stewart: if the exam is one that proves not to meet psychometric norms after evaluation of the field tests, the contract must be taken up in court. A contract with AIR is not a legislative concern, nor is it the concern of the legislature that Commissioner Stewart made a premature decision requiring an enormous financial investment of taxpayer funds. We cannot, in good conscience, continue to use an inadequate assessment that has detrimental consequences because it is the path of least economic resistance.
  • NCLB does not call for mandatory retention or remediation. Consequently, we recommend the legislature dismiss all use of mandatory retention and remediation; instead rely on professional educators to make decisions about pupil progression. Teachers are trained in curriculum, pedagogy, assessment and differentiating instruction, making them more qualified to make progression decisions than even a valid assessment, which provides only a snapshot of a student’s mastery at a particular point in time. Teachers are not proctors: they are professionals capable of making decisions about the best educational interests of children; allow them to use their expertise to do what is best for children.

Guide your decisions based on conscience and the outcry of the majority of stakeholders, rather than political or economic loyalty. Requiring children of six, seven, and eight years old to sit in silence to complete a 90-120 minute assessment is unconscionable. Robbing adolescents of engaging electives in favor of punitive and unnecessary remediation denies children the joy of education.

It is easy to manipulate data to support a particular position. However, the absence of data cannot be manipulated. While it may be politically tempting to laud an accountability system that favors a candidate whom you endorse, educators and psychometricians understand that the one consistent and unchanging measurement in American education to measure students and academic achievement is the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Longitudinal NAEP data shows statistically insignificant changes since the inception of the test-based accountability reform movement (U.S. Department of Education, 1992-2013).

It is intellectually dishonest to indicate that Florida students are improving in proficiency based on proficiency metrics that are constantly and arbitrarily redefined. Even as this letter is authored, the proficiency levels (“cut scores”) of the Florida Standards Assessment have yet to be determined; in effect, the yardstick has not been calibrated. There is no psychometric data for the FSA, and the absence of data cannot be manipulated. Returning to the presumption that a test-based accountability system is valid is based on flawed logic that puts the interests of profit-driven reform ahead of student success and a thriving public school system.

Opt Out Orlando and the 26 Opt Out groups across the state of Florida will continue to push back against punitive testing until the Florida Legislature is willing to put students’ interests first, in the following ways:

  • Abandon the use of the invalidated Florida Standards Assessment
  • Remove the high stakes of retention, remediation, and graduation associated with all assessments
  • Promote the use of a reasonable, authentic, teacher-created portfolio that demonstrates a student’s best work and honors the nature of the classroom teacher to assess student learning
  • Promote teacher-created end of year exams that demonstrate content validity

We look forward to your swift legislative action that preserves the integrity of our public schools, high-quality teaching, and valid assessment of Florida’s children.

Signed,

Opt Out Orlando, members and concerned stakeholders

References
American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, & National Council on Measurement in Education (1999). Standards for educational and psychological testing. Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association

Standards and Assessments Peer Review (SAAP) Guidance : Information and Examples for Meeting Requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. (2007, December 21). Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/saaprguidance.pdf

U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), various years, 1992–2013 Reading Assessments.

We are grateful to educator, friend, fellow parent and activist, Darcey Addo for authoring this letter on behalf of   Opt Out Orlando.


One Test Should Not Determine My Future

Kiana Hernandez is a courageous high school student, who decided to take ownership of her education and address the Orange County school board this fall.  What she has been subjected to in the name of accountability is not different from far too many other students.  Assessments are implemented without common sense. Currently 800 students just in Orange County alone had to retake the exam.  Below, is the transcript of her speech to the Orange County School Board, which was the subject of an article by Leslie Postal in the Orlando Sentinel on November 7, 2014: Fed Up Student Won’t Retake FCAT Reading.
__________________________

Thank you, Mr. Sublette, Mrs. Gordon, the school board and Mrs. Jenkins for this opportunity to address my school board. My name is Kiana Hernandez and I am a senior at University High School.

I am here to talk about Standardized Testing and Class Sizes. Why is it that teachers and students have to suffer because of high stakes testing? We miss out on our academics and fall behind. We are told to take THE TEST or else! I work very hard to maintain my 3.58 GPA, but I have yet to pass the FCAT. The OR ELSE for me is that I may not get a diploma. I won’t get what I’ve earned because of one test. I’ve asked my teachers, “What are your goals for my education?” All their answers were similar. My teachers answered,” My goal is to get you to pass the EOC, Benchmark, FCAT, etc.” But what happens after the test? Am I here to prepare for tests, or to prepare for life?”

People say, “Don’t take action because you are too young,” or “You don’t have a diploma, or a degree.” There are massive problems in our whole world today and it is we, the youth, who will change the world and make a difference.

Class sizes are STILL being determined. We get moved in and out of different classes, so we fall even more behind and it is NOT RIGHT, for us or our teachers.

No matter what else we accomplish, we still have to pass the test… OR ELSE. Our school system is set up for failure. WE are set up for failure. I would like to study Political Science, but according to some teachers, because I have yet to pass the test, I may not get the diploma that would help me realize my dream. If this is not corrupt, I don’t know what is. This is your children’s and your grandchildren’s education too. If we do not stand up for what is right as a whole we will end up pushed to the side…

There are many solutions to this problem. For instance, we can stop following the herd and be an example, or as a county we can stop distributing these tests.

If colleges don’t require it, why are we doing it?

The state statues speaks of monitoring progress however, there are many alternatives other than distributing a test. For example, Miami Dade County who limited benchmark testing, parents, teachers, and students stated that grades went up and the stress went down.

Recently Benchmark has been a required grade… Why? Is it just something else to put in the gradebook? Benchmarks were created to inform teachers about what the students currently know. However, the teacher will know what the students are capable of when they are doing his/her job and teaching.

This is a waste of time, paper, and is a mockery of our education.

I should be evaluated by my everyday grades in my class, NOT judged by a test I take once. One test SHOULD NOT determine my future.

_______________________

At the end of her address, the board unanimously praised her for coming to speak to the board.  They reiterated that they all believe that testing is out of control and that state legislators control it, “We are constitutional officers and must uphold the law.”

They also invited her to accompany the board and the PTA to lobby legislators in the spring.

Chairman, Bill Sublette’s sage advice was for Kiana to realize that she would have to take tests all her life.  She held her ground with the board, asking three times, “What about the benchmarks?”  She reminded the board that other counties were actively reducing the district tests.  

While outgoing board member, Rick Roach assured her that she was more than a test score, he asked her, “If you were speaking to a legislator right now, what would you say to him or her?”

After a thoughtful pause, her reply was succinct, “I would want them to take the test.”

Mr. Sublette once again praised Kiana for coming forward and for raising the issues of testing and said that this was one of the most meaningful discussions the board had had about testing.  He said that the board welcomes the community to come and discuss this issue with the board.

We should indulge him.

 


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