The group, part of The Opt Out Florida Network, is taking action against high stakes associated with standardized testing.
WEST ORANGE Standardized testing has long been a controversial subject in Florida’s public schools, and some students and parents are taking action to demonstrate their distaste for the high stakes that come with it.
The Opt Out Florida Network is a community of opt-out groups and administrators from across the state, according to its website. It is focused on discussing testing, policy, school practices and educating those interested in opting out of standardized testing.
“A test that should only inform instruction now determines teacher pay, school grades, whether a kid graduates or goes to third grade, all of these are the high stakes,” said Cindy Hamilton, one of three co-founders of the Opt Out Orlando group, where the network originated. “The reason we object is that it completely changes the environment of a classroom. … Opt out is an active protest about what is wrong with the public school system.”
The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test was replaced with the Florida Standards Assessment. Both tests are similar, but the FSA’s standards are aligned to the new Florida Standards.
According to the Florida Department of Education’s website, the FSA presented “new question types (that) will assess students’ higher-order thinking skills in keeping with the higher expectations of the Florida Standards.”
Parents, administrators and students involved in OOO are not against testing but rather believe the FSA does not truly measure the levels of knowledge, creativity and achievements unique to each individual student.
“We are demanding that all children have access to a quality public education,” Hamilton said. “It’s not about ‘Let’s not test kids.’ It’s about, ‘Let’s have an authentic assessment.’”
Opting out is not a widely known concept but is growing from the grassroots movement sparked in part by OOFN. According to Florida Statute 1008.25, each student must participate in the statewide, standardized testing required by Florida Statute 1008.22.
Although students are required by law to participate, OOFN’s guide to opting out states that “when students sit for the test, break the seal on the test and refuse to complete it, they have participated but only to the extent required by the law and cannot be re-tested. They have now ‘opted out.’”
Jamie Miller, a parent of a third-grader and a seventh-grader and member of OOO, said this is the first year she has had her children opt out. After her seventh-grader, an honors student since elementary school, was slated to go into all regular classes next school year because of his FSA scores, she decided to take action and opt out.
“I don’t want their promotion to the next grade level based on the FSA; I want it based on their work and their grades, which it should be,” Miller said. “These kids work so hard, and As and Bs aren’t easy.”
Liliana Vidal, another OOO member, is a parent of a high-school student and a fourth-grader. Her fourth-grader has an IEP, and this is the first year he has opted out of testing.
“He came to me and told me, ‘If I’m in special classes, why do I have to take the same test everyone else does?’” Vidal said. “That’s when the light bulb went off and I said, ‘He’s right.’ It puts them all in the same category. I just feel like they’re unfairly evaluated, and each child is an individual.”
Contact Danielle Hendrix at [email protected].