“…standardized tests are not like the weather, something to which we must resign ourselves. . . . They are not a force of nature but a force of politics-and political decisions can be questioned, challenged, and ultimately reversed. Teachers, parents, and students can turn their frustration into action and successfully turn back the testing juggernaut in order to create classrooms that focus on learning.” -Alfie Kohn – The Case Against Standardized Testing, 2000
Opt Out Orlando is an advocacy group, formed by three mothers, Cindy Hamilton, Sandy Stenoff and Becky Smith, who is also a former classroom teacher. We are passionate about strong public education. Each of us has come up against the pall of high stakes testing in the lives of our children in different ways, which we will discuss in this blog from time to time. What all of our children have in common is the increasing loss of rich, joyful and intellectually stimulating educational opportunities, as the high stakes tied to testing force teachers and schools to teach to the test, in pursuit of test scores and school grades.
Cindy Hamilton and I had been friends for almost ten years (our children had attended the same school) and we had served together on the Central Florida School Boards Coalition (2012) – a five-county task force to examine high stakes testing on our public schools. The coalition published a report, “The Ramification of High Stakes Standardized Testing on our Public Schools,” which was shared widely. As a result of this information, the Florida School Board Association passed a resolution to limit high stakes testing, and made similar recommendations to Governor Rick Scott, to no avail. After reporting the findings of the task force, it became clear that real change would only be brought about by parents taking this issue to the general public, to inform parents and teachers alike of what we had learned, and what we continue to see locally and hear about from across the country.
Becky Smith, a skilled former teacher and current doctoral student, joined us and Opt Out Orlando was born.
During the 2013 testing season, through social networks, we became aware of a handful of parents across Florida, including here in Orange County, who had successfully opted out of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). We took heart and a handful more (including me) found the chutzpah to opt out last spring.
Opting out is not easy and it is not fun. The most successful opt out is one where the student and school suffer no negative consequences as a result of the student not having a test score.
Opting out of state-mandated standardized testing is a moral stand against the harms that have been heaped upon our children because of the high stakes tied to testing in the name of false accountability. Opting out is considered an act of civil disobedience.
In the last year, the landscape of public education has changed dramatically. The stakes are as high as they have ever been. But evermore parents and teachers are aware and awake and we firmly believe that grassroots activists, such as we are, here in Florida and across this country will be able to roust the masses of parents into action to help transform public education into what it was meant to be for all of our children:
- a learning experience full of joy and discovery, NOT how to fill in bubble sheets.
- where curiosity and creativity are nurtured by hands-on learning; NOT rote memorization.
- where children strive toward excellence, NOT a test score
- where a love of learning is the goal, NOT the means to an end – NOT college and career-readiness for all.
What you can expect from Opt Out Orlando:
- Factual information about how to opt out and the consequences thereof.
- Support for opting out, based on our experience and others’ experiences shared with us.
- Factual information about what opting out is, and is not.
- Up-to-date information as it becomes available to us.
- Calls to action.