Monthly Archives: June 2014

Failing FCATs Causing Summer Chaos

Opt Out Orlando, with increasing frequency, is receiving frantic requests for help from frantic parents and frantic teachers about third grade students who did not pass the FCAT. There are so many students in mandatory summer school now because they didn’t pass the FCAT. By now, most have been administered the Iowa Test of Basic Standards (ITBS) and the test results will be in next week. The calls we receive are about children, who a parent or teacher feel probably will not pass the ITBS either.

They ask, Now what?

Now that the kids have failed the FCAT and possibly the alternative assessment, the frantic parents and teachers want to know, What is the loophole so the child can be promoted?

PEOPLE!!!  OPTING OUT is the loophole.  It’s the ONLY loophole.  

In the meantime, the children and their parents wait nervously to find out whether they passed the ITBS so they can be promoted to the fourth grade or not. If they don’t pass the ITBS, they won’t be promoted… unless the parent knows they can fight it. Most don’t. And at this point, it’s WORK.
One way to avoid retention is to withdraw the child from school before the end of the school year.  Too late for that now.  Another way is to homeschool for a while and then re-enroll the child into the school system.  This is not an option for all parents, especially parents who work outside the home.

We say it over and over.


To date, no student or school has been harmed by a student opting OUT.
 However, students and schools ARE being harmed by students opting IN.

—> The solution to this problem would have been for the parent to request that a TEACHER-SELECTED PORTFOLIO be maintained from the beginning of the school year. TEACHER-SELECTED.  Drum that into your brain.


It is important NOT to use the district’s CD portfolio. The CD is NOT a true portfolio. The “CD portfolio” is a compilation of FCAT-type reading passages and multiple choice test questions on a CD-ROM that is administered to the student. It is merely a regurgitated FCAT. And it is secret, just like the FCAT/FSA.

There are teachers who maintain portfolios for every child in their class… just in case.  A portfolio is not some mysterious, magical contrivance. It’s not rocket science.  Don’t let anyone tell you it is.

In Florida, it is just a compilation of samples of the child’s work done independently in the classroom, which meet the 42 criteria outlined in a district progression plan.  It may be written work, journals, in-class tests, spelling tests, artwork, projects done in class, photographs, ANYTHING the child has done in the class, which the TEACHER believes demonstrates the child’s fitness to be promoted, based on the 42 required criteria. That’s ALL.

If you want official confirmation of this information, you will need to call the head of Guidance for your district.

Possible Roadblocks:
The choice to compile a portfolio or to use the CD is at the principal’s discretion.   However, you should know, that YOU as the parent, may insist and always have the final say.  There are 42 reading passages that meet the criteria for promotion as outlined in the progression plan.  The 42 can come from classwork or the CD, or any combination thereof.  Most principals will choose the CD because it seems easier.  However… again… the work provided on the CD is the same as the test.  It is secret.  No one, not even your child’s teacher is allowed to see the test questions.

The recommendation from Just Read Florida – is a teacher-developed portfolio or the CD. Orange County increasingly does not trust the teachers enough to use anything but the CD.  You may have to insist on a teacher-developed portfolio.

If we help schools to prepare for us to opt out, from the beginning of the year, it should go much better for the teacher and your child. You may get pushback.  But you may also find the teacher appreciates the heads up.

Food for thought:  My son was in the third grade this year. I requested a portfolio in September, after notifying the school that my children would not be testing.  My son is highly gifted and is always ready to move on.  I believe that his teacher, knowing that he would not have to take the third grade test, felt free to provide him more advanced work. She did not feel pressured to make sure he would “perform” on the third grade test. My son, who often does not like school, had a great year. A really great year.

This post addresses only part of the issues surrounding third grade promotions and good cause exemptions. I will address failing test scores and high school graduation another time.

Ultimately, a real portfolio is how every child should be evaluated in the first place.

Will YOU be requesting a TEACHER-DEVELOPED PORTFOLIO for your child in the third grade this fall?



Why We MUST Support Teachers Running For Elected Office

In Florida, only seven of the 160 state legislators are public school teachers, making decisions for the largest slice of the budget pie ($24 Billion or approximately 30% of the state’s general fund).  No wonder things are such a grand mess.

How many of your state legislators are teachers, or know anything about public education at all?  We have to change this on a national scale.

What can YOU do about this?

When decisions are made about education policy, the decisions are being made primarily by non-educators, with one thing in mind – THE BOTTOM LINE.  But our children are not commodities.  They are not products.  They are human beings.  We need teachers in office to translate for the decision-makers, what policies mean in the classroom; what education laws enacted look like in the classroom; how it affects individual students’ lives every day.

More teachers in elected office would mean that students have a voice, teachers have a voice. Because right now, they don’t. Teaching is a profession and teachers don’t need corporate shills speaking for them. Those shills are really only looking out for their campaign donors. Teachers need to speak for themselves.

Teachers in office are able to inform decision-making and can communicate to fellow trustees the challenges that students and teachers face together in the classroom.  It is crucial to have strong representation on important matters such as common core, class sizes, budget allocations/cuts.

CRITICALLY IMPORTANT:  Increasingly, public school teachers are stepping up to run for elected office.

Nationwide, we MUST stand behind the educators running for office – school boards, unions, city councils, state senate and congress.

It is also important to support State Representatives outside of our own districts as well, because they have statewide impact.
Find the ones with whom you agree, support them strongly, spread the word widely… and VOTE for a teacher. 

Here are some courageous educators who have won office, are running for office, or running for re-election:



Kevin Beiser is a high school math teacher in the Sweetwater Union High School District and is also President of the San Diego Unified School District, which was touted by Diane Ravitch as the best urban school district. He believes that being a classroom teacher enables him to share his perspective with his fellow trustees. He strongly advocates to keep the Beginning Teacher Support Program (BTSA), smaller class sizes at all grade levels-especially K-3, and dealing with Common Core roll out from the state. California ranks 49th in per pupil funding.

Monica Ratliff is a second generation teacher, who ran for school board in LAUSD, and outspent by $2 million, she still won. Read about her election here.  She says, “One of the beautiful things about my election is my ability to remain independent. My commitment is to the students and the voters. I do think there’s a tendency to forget the nitty-gritty of the classroom. Every [issue] that comes my way, I look at in terms of how does this impact the classroom. It’s important to me that over time we provide more autonomy to our schools, to teach in a way they believe is best.”



John Paul Alvarez – for State Rep., Fla. HD 100, has announced ( that when elected, the third-grade public school teacher will introduce ambitious new legislation for “Putting Public Schools First”. Alvarez says: “I’m under no illusions about how difficult this will be. The forces that have pushed privatization forward at the expense of our public school system have a huge war chest and plenty of political power. But when ‘We The People’, the public school teachers, staffs, parents, grandparents and students all stand together as one, we will win this battle to Put Public Schools First”. Learn more at

Karen Castor-Dentel – State Representative of District  30. She is a third grade OCPS teacher.  Fed up with the reforms encroaching on her classroom, she  ran for office. She was not expected to win. She did and we are grateful. She has brought meaningful legislation before the Florida legislature, such as the Ethan Rediske Act to protect medically fragile children from the harms of high stakes testing. This bill was summarily dismissed by the Florida legislature in favor of vouchers. We will continue to fight for the Ethan Rediske act. Castor Dentel’s mother, Betty Castor is Florida’s last elected Commissioner of Education. Her sister Kathy is a US Representative from Hillsborough County.

Regina Hellinger (District 3 – Orange County) has served public education since 1991. For over ten years, she has served OCPS as a teacher at Carver Middle School and Endeavor Elementary School. She was the 2011 OCPS Teacher of the Year representing Endeavor Elementary School.  She is running for Rick Roach’s seat on the board as he steps down to run for State Senate. Regina Hellinger is for Smarter Spending, Smarter Collaboration, Smarter Students.

Joshua Katz – the Orange County high school math teacher, whose Tedx Talk on the Toxic Culture of Education is currently burning up the internet with almost 38,000 hits. Today, he threw his hat into the ring for school board (District 1) in Orange County, the ninth largest school district in the country. In a recent interview, he says he believes the question not being asked in education today is: “Is this really what’s best for the student?” If not, WHAT is best for the student? And why aren’t we asking it, with the intention to elicit genuine discourse?  See Katz’ announcement here.

Justin Katz  (Palm Beach County) As a teacher at Park Vista Community High School, he is the only candidate in the District 4 race with district classroom experience.  Having worked with students and teachers to improve academic performance, he understands the challenges that the district faces.

Pam LaRiviere  (Lee County) During her 31 years as an educator in the School District of Lee County, she served as an elementary and middle school teacher; curriculum writer, developed and provided training for district staff; Reading Specialist; and Reading Coach. As a recent retiree, she has her finger on the pulse of the needs of teachers, students, and parents.

Rick Roach (District 13) – the former teacher and school board member who made national headlines by exposing the testing abuse in Florida. He is running for Florida Senate to build on his work as a strong advocate and a voice of reason on behalf of Florida’s students, teachers and families. Florida ranks 50th in per pupil funding.

Shannon Maureen Russell (Duval County – District 2) – currently a High School English III IT Academy Teacher, Head Union Representative, and Duval Teachers Union (DTU) Board of Director.

Michael Weston (Hillsborough County) – a former Math and Special Ed teacher in Hillsborough County, Florida is running for a seat on the Hillsborough school board. He believes that public education is a sacred duty – vital to our neighborhoods, states and nation.   Education, he believes, must be about enriching young minds; not the burgeoning education industry. He says our leadership should respect learning more than measurement.


Tim Meegan –  an independent candidate for 33rd Ward Alderman. “I’m not a politician or from a political family. I’m not a Republican or a Democrat. I am a husband, a father of two boys, and a social studies teacher at Roosevelt High School. I’m running for alderman because I want to protect the diversity and improve the quality of life for my neighbors in the 33rd ward.”


Bess Altwerger – a teacher educator. After 25 years of teaching teachers at Towson University, the retired professor is one of 13 candidates seeking four open seats on the Howard County Board of Education.  She is a member of the Steering Committee of Save Our Schools.  Read more about Bess here.


Barbara Madeloni  recently won the leadership of the Massachusetts Teachers’ Association, by taking a strong stance against kowtowing to the oligarchy. We need an army of Barbara Madelonis to stand up for the teachers, who are standing up for our children.


Brian Jones – an educator and activist, who has become a leading voice in discussions about public education. He is the Green Party’s 2014 candidate for Lt. Governor of New York.  Jones and the Green Party support progressive taxation, fully-funded schools, renewable energy, single-payer health care, $15 minimum wage and a New York that works for the 99%. Hear him talk about his platform here.


They’re qualified, informed, and they care about what is best for children and their education.

Opt Out Orlando has not endorsed any of these candidates.  It is your duty to learn more about your candidates so that you can be an informed voter in your local elections.  Please share this information and urge your friends and family to become as informed as you… and then VOTE.

These are just some of the courageous teachers who are stepping up to the plate across the country.  Helping our teachers to get elected has the potential to drastically shift the scales back in favor of our children.

If we, as a movement, were successful at installing just two teachers onto each school board across the country, what would public education look like in just one year?

Find out if an educator in your district is running and donate to their campaign – with your time, talent and treasure.

And if there isn’t one, change that too.


Sandy Stenoff

Becky L. Noël Smith

Cindy Hamilton



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