Parent Activism Pushes Re-think of Florida’s Testing System

Across Florida, parents are beginning to rise up against the vast amount of standardized testing they say their children are facing.

Some believe children are taking too many exams, while others complain about the quality of the tests. Still others are concerned with how the test results are used.

"This is unlike anything we've ever seen before," said Suzette Lopez, who is spearheading the effort in South Florida. "It's really hit a critical mass."

Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg recently agreed, saying Florida students face "an avalanche of tests."

"We need to get our house in order," said Legg, a Pasco County Republican who runs a charter school. "Some of those tests are outdated or duplicating other tests. They need to be put out to pasture."

However, according to House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, dismantling the state's education system would result in "significant negative consequences on student learning, education funding, and, ultimately, a graduate's ability to find a job in today's global marketplace."

As the new exams, the Florida Standards Assessments, are implemented this year, parents worry about the technological capabilities of area schools required to smoothly make the transition.

In addition, a new testing system is being introduced that will be linked to teacher pay raises in every subject, including art and physical education.

"We're seeing too many changes in one year," said Cindy Hamilton, a parent activist from Orlando. "We have a new performance-pay system [for teachers]. We have a new test that is just a big mystery to everyone. Superintendents will tell you that this is a train wreck."

Hamilton started the group, Opt Out Orlando, in an effort to stop the use of FCAT testing and other high-stakes assessments.

"There is nothing wrong with some testing," Smith said. "But it needs to be used as a tool. It should never be attached to a student's ability to graduate or a teacher's pay."

In Fort Myers, parent activists are asking local schools to opt out of testing altogether, asking for a moratorium on all state testing. While the school board initially agreed, the decision was quickly reversed out of fear of losing state funding.

A moratorium on the 68 district-required exams was later enacted.

And just last week, 11 school districts joined together in an effort to suspend all high-stakes testing in the state for the next three years.

With the impending upcoming election on their minds, local politicians are beginning to listen. Governor Rick Scott recently asked for an "investigation" into state testing, and candidate Charlie Crist said the testing is "out of control."

According to the Foundation for Florida's Future, the state needs less testing of higher quality.

"We need to understand that there is great value to testing," Executive Director Patricia Levesque said. "We also need to make sure that we are not doing too much of it, and that we are actually using it to help students, parents and teachers."

10 3, 2014
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