A student earning straight A’s in classes and excelling in extracurricular activities may be prohibited from advancing to the next grade level by failing a Florida standardized test or choosing not to take the test.
In a statement, Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart emphasized that students are required by state law to participate in Florida’s standardized testing.
There is no legal way to avoid these tests, but the recent increase in the amount of standardized testing has made parents and school board members vocal about the policies, said Jackie Johnson, a spokeswoman for Alachua County schools.
“It’s reached a critical mass and now parents are really starting to pay attention and be concerned about the amount of testing that goes on,” Johnson said. “It’s too much, and it’s happening too quickly.”
Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Owen Roberts responded to the policy in a letter that encourages “parents, educators and other citizens to speak to their friends and neighbors, their legislators and other state leaders about these critical issues.”
“Testing drives the curriculum, but the results aren’t even used to help students,” Knudson wrote in an email. “Rather, they are used to label schools and teachers as ‘failing’ and since the results aren’t even reported until the summer, there is no way to use them to mitigate particular students’ shortcomings.”
Knudson, whose son attends F.W. Buchholz High School in Alachua County, said he understands teachers focus on these tests because their jobs depend on the results in tangible ways. However, he has noticed significant differences over the years in college students as they arrive on campus.
“While students may have done ‘well’ on the AP Calculus exams, I find that they don’t, as a rule, really understand the material, even if they can do a few types of problems,” he said. “I think this is largely a result of the focus on testing.”
The “opt out” movement is another way individuals are protesting testing policies.
Opt Out Orlando administrates 20 opt out groups across the state, including Opt Out Alachua. The goal of these groups is to remove the high stakes attached to standardized tests. Such as teachers being fired or students being unable to participate in extracurricular activities, move on to the next grade level or qualify for scholarships such as Bright Futures due to failing test scores.
“It’s very grassroots,” said Cindy Hamilton, co-founder of Opt Out Orlando. “We are not anti-test. We feel that these standardized tests should be used as the way they were intended, which is as one tool in the toolbox.”
Although parents are protesting the amount of testing that goes on, Knudson said he thinks it will take a concerted act of civil disobedience before the legislature will back down.
“Until then, I suspect it will be business as usual, with students spending way too much class time preparing for these tests, and parents going along with it out of fear of losing scholarship money and other benefits,” Knudson said.
Johnson emphasized that these are state laws, not school board laws. She said the school board has been talking to the state for years about excessive testing.
“So far we haven’t made any headway at this point and the number of tests have just been growing,” she said.
School board members cannot encourage opting out because it is a law, but they have supported active participation from the public.
“Bottom line is that we need to have conversations,” said Leanetta McNealy, an Alachua County School Board member. “We need to do a lot of writing. That is how we can get things changed. We need to curtail the abundance of testing that is going on statewide.”