Tag Archives: Becky Smith

Fear and Loathing in a Florida School

By Cindy Hamilton – 5/27/2014

Last Friday, I witnessed one of the saddest examples of teacher oppression I have ever seen. You may recall that I have been helping a family, since January, to get a teacher-developed portfolio for their son in the third grade. The student’s mother had legitimate concerns because of her own difficulties with passing FCAT and I have been advocating, with her, since the beginning of this year.

In spite of the A’s and B’s that her son has earned all year long, a letter was sent to his parents informing them of possible retention due to “below grade level” reading test scores. This student was at risk of failing the FCAT, so the parents chose to use a portfolio as an alternative assessment (provided for in Florida statutes) and he refused the test in April.

After much research and many conversations with FLDOE and Just Read Florida, we clarified and understood the difference between a teacher-developed portfolio and the state-provided CD, which contains secret test questions, similar to the FCAT. Each portfolio must contain forty-two reading passages with questions and answers, that meet the state criteria for proficiency.

When we (the student’s mother and I) initially asked the teacher for her to begin a portfolio, in January, she explained that she was not able to do that because all work had been sent home. Mom shared that she has kept all classroom work that had been sent home and could make copies and return it. The teacher said we would need to meet with the principal, which we did in February. The principal said she would need to clarify with the district the difference between the two types of portfolio. This process took four months. At this late date, of course, there is not sufficient time to gather a true teacher-developed portfolio, which should consist of work completed in the classroom.  The school wants him to complete what is missing, twenty-seven reading passages, with this CD of regurgitated and secret FCAT passages.

This past Friday, we attended another parent/teacher conference (at our request) to hear the teacher’s plan. When we arrived to meet with the teacher, we were directed to a conference room. In attendance were the ESE teacher, staffing specialist, principal and the teacher. At first I did not recognize this teacher. She was no longer the bubbly, enthusiastic woman I had met in January. Her shoulders hung low, she would not make eye contact when we sat down. The principal positioned herself so she was sitting close enough to touch arms with the teacher.

The meeting began with the principal asking us to start because we had called the meeting. We asked the teacher to explain her plan for completing the portfolio. The teacher looked at the principal and the principal began to explain how they were going to fit three CD reading passages a day into each day of the remaining school year. As we asked questions about this plan, we continued to direct them to the teacher who always looked at the principal to answer. After several minutes of this, I asked that we stop the meeting.

I asked the teacher to please look me in eye and told her that we were there to meet with her because she is the authority on this student’s academic progress and that she would be the one to complete this portfolio for him. I acknowledged that she was clearly uncomfortable and clarified that that was not our intent, but that we really wanted to hear from her. She said she wanted to defer to the principal. At this point, she was looking at the table with tears in her eyes. Mom also expressed her concern for the teacher and that she wanted the teacher to be present and active in this meeting. More conversation about the logistics of accomplishing this portfolio, as the principal continued with the choice of another test over portfolio as a means to promotion. Here, we reminded them that if a portfolio had been started in January we would not be in this meeting at the eleventh hour. We reminded the principal that at the second meeting in February, she had refused to allow the teacher to start the process without asking the district for guidance on a teacher-developed portfolio.

At this point, the principal became extremely defensive, stating she had never refused to do a portfolio. We asked the teacher to speak up here and she was by now in no condition to speak at all and just looked at the principal. We again expressed our concern for her. I stated that I understood the environment of fear within her profession and that we supported her and valued her role most of all. The principal said she took great offense at the insinuations we were making that she was responsible for any intimidation of this teacher. I pointed out that I was not accusing her but was recognizing the culture of fear in teachers across the state. The principal offered to leave the room if we wanted to have a conversation with the teacher alone, but would have to leave the staffing specialist who was taking notes. Seeing the panic in the eyes of the teacher, we declined.

We don’t know for sure what happened to that teacher, but during this meeting she was only able to hand over documents to the principal to support our conversation. She was not able to speak and it was clearly fear that prevented her from participating in a discussion about one of her students. One could visibly see the defeat all over her. She was crying and unable to look at the parent. The principal was sitting so closely and stiffly next to her, that without saying so, she was communicating loudly to everyone in the room, her intent to control this meeting.

The principal called an end to the meeting when she felt “accused”. We pointed out that this was not the first time she had refused to complete a portfolio and reminded her of the students, whom she had refused last year.  As we were all standing to go, I spoke again to the teacher and expressed how sorry I was that she felt she could not support her student. I stated that I did not understand what had happened to prevent her participation, but that we do understand what has happened to her profession, and that we fight for her every day, and against the oppression that keeps her from being able to be open and honest in a meeting such as this. I tried to assure her by explaining that families all over the country were supporting teachers by refusing to allow students to supply the data that impacts them thru VAM and other evaluation systems based on high stakes tests.

Over the past few days, I have had the time to reflect on this fiasco. We have options for this student and he will be fine.  I cannot say the same for this teacher.  She has broken my heart, as I am sure hers has also been broken. She was, in every way, a different person from the awesome, confident teacher we had met with in January.   She was afraid of her principal, she was afraid of us.

Update June 3, 2014
Today, I will be going to school with this mom so that she can withdraw her son from OCPS. This will allow him to complete the teacher-developed portfolio as a home-schooled student, over the summer. After consulting the director of school choice, Dr Chris Bernier and Toney Shoemaker at the Homeschool Department, this was the best option for this student. The parents will then re-enroll him as a 4th grader in August.

This could all have been avoided had the “system” not stood in the way of a true portfolio and if it had not taken months to come up with a plan to provide a portfolio. The CD provided by the state does not represent a portfolio. A portfolio should come from work produced in the classroom that fits the criteria, not from a “secret” CD. Teachers, who are the MOST qualified to complete this task, should be given autonomy to complete this process. OCPS must be prepared to provide a teacher-developed portfolio as provided by statute and Just Read Florida.


Thank you to Susan DuFresne for her input.



*** Mandatory Reading Assignment***

An anonymous teacher shared this and agreed to let it be shared. You will see why.

Keep in mind that Florida has, in Commissioner Pam Stewart’s words, *rebranded* the Common Core State Standards.  They are now the *Florida Standards,* or shall we say, the FL DOE’s revival of the Common Core State Standards?  A little lipstick on this pig, and she’s ready for her public.

You are forewarned.

“Last year in New York, a group of fourth graders sat for the first of eight NYS testing days (3 ELA, 3 math, 2 science).  On that first day, there were 30 multiple choice questions and a 70 minute time limit.  It took me, with three degrees in education, 42 minutes just to read the passages, questions and answer choices.  Let that sink in.

There was so much material that I took over half of the allotted just to read the booklet!  Please assume that I read more fluently and with more comprehension skills than 9 and 10 year old kids.  Over half of the students completed 15 questions or LESS.

They automatically failed the assessment.  The Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSS) is setting public education up for FAILURE.  CCSS says kids should read ‘closely’ and gather evidence from the text.  CCSS and Pearson sold us a product that has us read the main selection 3 times in one week.  Then, Pearson wrote the test that made sure kids would not pass.  Those kids that did as they were taught, that went back to the text and proved their answers FAILED.  They failed because the CCSS test would not allow them to use CCSS strategies.  Who failed?  CCSS failed those kids.  Combine that with APPR rubrics that tie my score to their test scores, and it’s a win-win.

Students fail, teachers fail, corporate reformers win BIG MONEY.  Please start researching ALEC, PARCC, CCSS, and APPR.  Look for the money trail.  Our kids are not failing.  Our kids are growing, and some will grow faster, slower, in a different direction, etc.  Please make sure you understand what is really happening to public education.

The rich and powerful corporations smell money in the water.  They don’t care if publicly educated kids bleed to death in the process.  THEIR kids don’t go to public school.”

Mike Archer is the retired Florida Teacher Who Reviewed the Common Core in 2009.  With regard to the anonymous teacher’s account above, Archer shares, 

”In addition to crashing public education so they can sell private ed, the other big reason for Ed Reform is here, in this quote by Joanne Weiss, in what education historian, Diane Ravitch refers to as veteran educator, Stan Karp’s trenchant analysis of the Common Core

“Joanne Weiss, Duncan’s former Chief of Staff and head of the Race to the Top grant program, which effectively made adoption of the Common Core a condition for federal grants, described how it is opening up huge new markets for commercial exploitation:

The development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional development, and formative assessments.  Previously, these markets operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district basis.  But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.”

Got it, parents?

education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.

We, in the grassroots movement, pay very close attention to New York.  What they do in New York may not be the way we do it in the South, but New York portends nasty storms for Florida.

For anyone new to the opt out movement or to the fight against corporate education reform, here are some links we have found useful and informative regarding the teacher’s suggestions above.

The links provided are not links to the organizations listed; they are links about them.

ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council)

PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers)

VAM(Value Added Modeling)

CCSS (Common Core States Standards)

APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review).


Parents united for ALL children!!!

There is a confluence of significant events happening in Florida and throughout the country now.  In the last few weeks alone: 

  1. The documentary “Standardized” continues to be shown nationwide and has been opening the eyes of parents and emboldening teachers to speak truth to power.  Testing season is in full gear and parents are on high alert as children are stressed beyond belief, as they are burdened with the adult responsibilities of teachers’ evaluations, school grades and school funding.
  2. Social networks have exploded with the tragic story of Ethan Rediske. Public debate about the issues faced by his family before, when and since he died – has taken off like wildfire.  Other states are now calling for their own Ethan Laws.
  3. Beyond the injustice and abuse heaped upon severely disabled children, the mandated tests not only detracted from the quality, and possibly even the length of Ethan’s remaining life, the tests continue to decimate the quality of education for all children by virtue of the high stakes attached to testing.  The justifiable outrage of parents is growing every day, nearing critical mass.
  4. We are entering the 2014 legislative session and legislators have come out boldly in support of true reforms to preserve public education.  Full transformation may have to wait.  We’ll take this… for now.

Parents everywhere are poised to act and we need your help to enlist their support. While we wish that HB 895: The Ethan Rediske Act included broad parental rights to opt out, many experts have said that this is our best chance to open the door and we cannot squander this opportunity to wait for one more year.

On the front lines – We will continue to opt out of testing as an act of civil disobedience and as a moral stand against the destruction of genuine teaching and learning in public schools today.

There are significant Florida legislative actions pending NOW that affect YOUR CHILD.

Public School Curricular Standards & Assessments – SB 1316

Public School Curricular Standards & Assessments – HB 25

Ethan Rediske Act – HB 895

Ethan Rediske Act – SB 1446

Education Performance Accountability – SB 1368

Education Performance Accountability – HB 1187

We urge you in the strongest way possible to write your Representatives and Legislators TODAY.

Insist that your legislators stop this insanity against ALL children.

Let them know how the current policies affect YOUR child.

Tell them you want these bills enacted for ALL children’s benefit and protection.

Parents of every political persuasion are standing together for ALL children.



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What is Opt Out Orlando?

“…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.

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