Florida Parents Sue Over Standardized Testing

     (CN) – They’re called opt-out parents – parents who choose to have their children not take standardized tests – and they’re part of a national movement. Now a group of them in Florida is suing the state’s Education Commissioner and several county school boards.
     They say their third-graders are being held back despite performing well in the classroom all year long, many of them even making the honor roll.
     The Sunshine State abandoned the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in 2013 in favor of the Florida Standards Assessment. Between delayed test results and conflicting information, the transition hasn’t been a smooth one. As a result of this ongoing confusion, school boards across the state were forced to implement their own criteria for whether to promote a student to the fourth grade.
     In a complaint filed August 9 in Leon County Circuit Court, the plaintiffs share individual stories of how each of their children was treated differently from district to district. Although the details vary, students who opted-out of the FSA received end-of-the-year evaluations which stated that they would not be promoted to the fourth grade, despite passing grades, and concluded with the phrase “Retention Due to FSA Scores.”
     The parents are suing for equal protection under the Florida Constitution. They say state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart and the school board defendants interpreted Florida Statutes during the 2015-2016 school year in such a way that was inconsistent and contrary to a rule that allows for an exemption from standardized testing.
     As a result, the plaintiffs say widely different methods were used in decisions involving the retention and promotion of third grade students and therefore unequal treatment of students under the same rule.
     The parents contend that there’s no reason why the defendants should not consider a student’s report card when it comes time to promote to the fourth-grade. They call the defendants’ decision to hold back their children because they opted out of standardized tests arbitrary and they are asking the court to declare the defendants’ actions unconstitutional on both a state and federal level.
     The plaintiffs want the process used when considering whether to promote students to the fourth grade to be fair, adequate and provide an opportunity for a hearing.
     Currently, they say there is no due process when a school principal determines that a student should or should not be promoted. A principal’s decision to promote is reviewed by the school district superintendent, but a principal’s decision to retain a student is not reviewed by the superintendent.
     The plaintiffs ask the court for an injunction to prohibit the defendants from refusing to accept a report card based on classroom work throughout the course of the school year. They say it’s part of a broader picture because the defendants’ treatment of test participation as more important than actual classroom performance and individual student proficiency is contrary to a just and equitable educational system.
     The parents point to research that holding back a child places them at substantial risk of truancy or dropping out of school altogether, socially isolates them from their peers and causes feelings of resentment and negative attitudes toward school and authority in general. They claim that in this case the negative impact could be even more severe because these children performed well, got straight As, made Honor Roll and are still being held back.
     Although the state has no system for tracking “opt-outs” it does note when an exam is incomplete. The Orlando Sentinel reported that the number of those incomplete exams in Florida was at 20,000 last year, up from 5,500 in 2014.
     The fact is no matter how these parents may feel about standardized testing in general and the Florida Standards Assessment specifically, opting out as a form of civil disobedience is risky business since all public school students are required by state law to take the exams. Still, there’s no denying it’s a movement. In fact, an organization called Opt Out Florida has a detailed how-to guide for parents and students interested in opting out of the FSA.
     WFSU News Radio reports that the lengths families will go to in order to escape the exams can range from simply staying home throughout the testing period to breaking the seal on the test, but not filling it out. Of course, staying home for an excessive number of days could lead to a truancy issue. According to WFSU, opt-out parents also admit that their child’s protest of the exams can cause confusion for teachers who have no alternate plans for students who are in class, but not intending to take the exam.
     Opting-out causes bigger concerns for school districts too because they, their schools and individual teachers are rated based on standardized test scores. These ratings impact how federal education funding is dispersed. School districts need their students to take the tests for greater access to federal dollars which is why they place so much emphasis on them, the parents say.

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