After Testing Opt-Out, Florida Districts Reverses Vote

School board members in Lee County, Florida, this week let out a communal ‘Oops!’  Their never-before-seen decision to opt out of state standardized tests for the coming school year — less than a week ago — was reversed just this week.

Allie Bidwell of U.S. News &World Report says that Mary Fischer, who reluctantly voted “yes” to opt out of the testing, called for a special meeting of the board and changed her vote.

“I have decided to rescind my vote for a variety of reasons, Fischer said, according to The News-Press. “The vote from Aug. 27 for immediate opt out of all state-mandated, standardized testing has multiple consequences, which are not in the best interest of our students … The kids have been my life’s work, which is why I am calling for reconsideration.”

Superintendent Nancy Graham is assembling a task force to find ways to reduce testing at the district level.

“I think change is about to begin,” Graham said during a press conference following the vote. “This has just made the conversation louder and brought it to the forefront. I don’t see how the state can ignore this anymore.”

One member, Don Armstrong, has asked for another vote and plans to bring the option up at the next board meeting on Sept. 9.

The decision to opt out last week was based on several factors, the main one being too many high-stakes consequences tied to students’ test scores, such as grade promotions, graduation requirements and teacher evaluations. Soon after the vote,  the Florida School Boards Association told the Associated Press that the decision would hurt children.

Bob Schaeffer, spokesman for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (Fair Test), lives in Lee County and says that the volume of standardized testing has dramatically increased — No Child Left Behind nearly tripled the number of tests from six to 17.  Add to that the number of “measures” that can be influenced by the tests’ score, and it isn’t hard to see why many are saying “enough is enough”.

Several educators stepped up to say that they were disappointed in the “opting out of opting out”, saying the decision was a good first step in “doing what’s right”, according to Kathleen McGrory of The Miami Herald.

CBS Miami reports that some parents agreed with Stephanie Bloch, a parent who thought the board made a mistake by rescinding their vote.

“While the Florida Standards may not be perfect, accountability is necessary,” said Bloch, herself a graduate of the Lee County school system. “We should want for our children to achieve the highest level of which they are capable.”

Other parents were disappointed.

“All of us worked all of the long three-day weekend and will continue doing it,” said Lori Fayhee, a parent and leader of a group called Teaching Not Testing.

Board member Raquel Regalado wants parents to know the testing requirement comes from the state and federal level and are tied to funding.  Between funding needs and a public that is demanding information on how schools are performing, there really is only one way to go. At the least, school districts will be looking to parents, states and the federal government to find the proper testing methods and appropriate follow-up results to testing which is also best for students.

The Tallahassee Democrat published an opinion piece by Rosanne Wood, a retired Leon Schools principal, who thinks the board made the right decision the first time it voted.  Especially, she said, when standing up to the Foundation for Excellence in Education, who, she believes, were former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s mouthpiece and lobbying group who supported overtesting of Florida’s students.

“Quit wasting so much money on these big testing companies and divert the resources back into the classroom, where they’re really needed. As Lee County School Board member Don Armstrong said, ‘We cannot let fear hold us back. Sometimes it takes an act of civil disobedience to move forward.’ Right on, Brother.”

09 8, 2014
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