Florida Education Commissioner Nixes Testing Opt-Out

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Students in Florida by law cannot opt out of the state’s standardized tests, and, if they do, their teachers and school districts could face trouble.

A letter from Education Commissioner Pam Stewart written this week to Florida state senators in response to a letter she received from them, reiterates her position that state law, section 1008,22 of the Florida statutes:

“… requires students to participate in the state assessment system, therefore there is no opt out clause or process for students to opt out or for parents to opt their children out.”

The senators who wrote the letter wanted to know what would happen to parents involved in the growing “opt out” movement in the state if their children did skip the tests, says Leslie Postal of the Sun Sentinel. One such group, Opt Out Orlando, insists that there are legal ways to refuse to take the exams and are lashing out at Stewart through letters and emails to her office and to the Florida Legislator. One parent said that those opposed to the testing are not asking permission to opt out, but have every right to refuse participation in the test-taking.

Lee County District was told by its school board not to take the tests. The decision was later rescinded, but the message sent was clear.

Stewart reminded parents that the tests determine whether the goals of the Florida education system are being met. Repercussions for not taking the tests could include: districts losing federal and state funding; lowered grade-point averages; and the potential of putting students’ diplomas at risk.

The only reason that would allow a student to opt-out of the testing, according to Stewart, is when an exemption is granted to students for medical reasons or disabilities. John O’Conner, reporting for WUSF Public Media, says it is up to the districts to decide when and if a student can skip a test. To change the law would require the legislature to pass a revised law.

Other variables concerning state tests are the fact that students can substitute an SAT or ACT score, if the score is high enough, for the tenth grade reading exam or the Algebra I exam, both of which are graduation requirements. Also, third graders who receive the lowest scores on the state reading test have several alternatives which could keep them from being held back.

In a report by Erik Sandoval of WKMG-TV in Orlando, he says that the senators’ letter also asked for clarification on the cost, frequency, and validity of state exams. Parents were upset with Stewart’s reply.

“Pam Stewart is a bully. She went after teachers and their profession,” said Cindy Hamilton, co-founder of Opt Out Orlando, which seeks to give parents the power to opt out of their children taking the standardized tests.

“It’s horrifying!” said Sandy Stenoff, “Opt Out Orlando” co-founder.  “We have a whole generation of kids coming through ‘No Child Left Behind’ who are really ill prepared.”

The Bright House Network reports that Stenoff said the test is not a valid measure of what kids need to know to be promoted to the next grade. She believes that teachers are a better judge of what a student knows and where a student should be placed. Second language learners and kids who are struggling need to have options according to Hamilton, adding that people need to understand that they have a right to refuse these tests.