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Why My Kids are “Opting Out” of the FSA (Florida high-stakes test)

opt-out FSA

I sent my opt out letter to the middle school on Friday. And I have started this conversation many times with my friends, but you know how those go…you get sidetracked and somehow end up talking about what happened on Scandal last week.

First of all, everyone who knows me knows I’m a rule follower…always have been. I’m the “good girl.” Apparently, I’m the “white suburban mom.”My kids are also good kids. They don’t cause trouble, they follow rules. They have a strong sense of right and wrong. The decision for my kids to refuse the test was not taken lightly. I would never put my kids in a position to fight what they perceive as MY fight. I would never put them in a situation that causes them distress or could jeopardize their academic success.

What does opting out really mean? Florida statute dictates that kids in Florida Public Schools must participate in the state assessments.  “Participate” is the key word here. When your child opts-out or refuses the test, they will sit for the test and sign in or break the seal, thus participating and then end the test. This will result in an NR2, which indicates that there is not enough data to score the test.  The Seminole County School Board has stated that students who opt out of FSA will not be harmed in any way and will be treated with the utmost respect. Therefore, my kids and I felt safe to opt-out.

My reasons:

The Test is Not a Valid Assessment Tool

Only students can see the test while they are taking it. Teachers and parents are never allowed to see the test and the student’s answers, they are only given a report of the subjects on the test.

How can we trust a test that we cannot see?  According to the Orlando Sentinel, the practice FSA had an error on it. How would anyone know if there was an error on the real test? Kids will just assume the question is hard and they don’t know the answer.

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The Test is too Hard

I am 41. I graduated from the very schools my children attend.  I was in the top 10% of my class. I’ve navigated my life pretty damn well so far. I took the FSA practice tests. I should never stumble over a 3rd grade question, but I did. I should be able to do a decent job on the 10th grade test, but I didn’t. I had to walk away. The kids aren’t given that option. I invite you to take them – it’s not fun. Not even a little bit, but you need to see what they’re asking of these kids. I challenge our legislators and the Florida Department of Education to take these test while being recorded and have their scores made public.  If you are going to do this to our kids, you need to see exactly what they go through.

The Test is too Long

My 7th and 8th grader will have to sit for 9 hours and 20 minutes of standardized tests this year. Compare that to the LSAT or the MCAT which are approximately 5 hours to get into law /medical school. Note that the chart states that the writing portion is 90 minutes, it has recently been stretched to 120 minutes.

Test Prep

My kids have spent hours learning about this test, how to take it, the computer tools, test-taking tips, etc. When you have to prepare the kids on how to take the test, the test becomes an accurate measure not of your knowledge, but how well you can take a test.

Grading the Test

The written portions of the test is not graded by educators, but by people hired by a staffing agency who are paid $11/hour and must fulfill a quota of how many to grade per hour.

There was also whispers of a computer that would grade the written portion of the exam. We aren’t just talking about the essay anymore, the kids have to explain their answer on the math portion and have short answers for the English/Language Arts test.  Clearly, there are massive potential problems with a computer “reading” essays.  I had heard that one person and the computer would grade the essay and if the scores were very different, then the  essay would receive the computer score. Things from Tallahassee have been very…um…”fluid” with this testing; so I’m unsure of the current grading process.

Cut Scores

The great mystery of standardized test grading. What’s the passing score of the test? We don’t know until the cut score is set. What’s the cut score for FSA? Well, we have no idea because you need a baseline to establish a “proficient” score and we have no baseline for this test because it’s the first time our kids have taken this test. Here’s how Utah did it for the SAGE test (the test we’re buying/borrowing/renting, whatever as FSA).

The Board of Education acknowledges in approving the proficiency levels that the number of students who will be assigned proficiency levels below expectations will increase. This is not due to decreased student performance, teacher instruction or school performance.

Okay, so it’s arbitrary. Got it. But remember, that number sticks with your kid for his educational career; it’s on his transcript and his school record. And it’s essentially made up by a mysterious panel of strangers.

Test results aren’t expected back until late fall

Let us suppose that the test is valid. If you get the results 6 months after the test was taken, how valid is it now? Maybe the kid had a break through? Maybe he had tutoring.  Maybe he really connects to his English teacher this year and has made huge progress. Those results are not helpful to teachers, parents or students at that point. The child’s new teachers have already assessed the student’s needs well before October!

High Stakes

Teacher “effectiveness”, teacher merit-pay, school grades, district grades, “intensive” classes and loss of electives, 3rd grade retention, high school graduation and funding all tied to a test that Florida educators had no voice in choosing.  With so much riding on one test, of course the schools and teachers will do massive pushes to maximize the chances of kids doing well. I have no problem with assessments or even a fair standardized test, but let it be one data point, do not allow it to be the end-all, be-all as it is now. I remember the good ol’ days of CTBS tests in Florida or CAT in Arizona. They both gave parents and teachers a glimpse into where the students were and it wasn’t scary for the kids.

Utah

I briefly mentioned Utah earlier. But Utah deserves its own section. Florida is “leasing” questions from Utah for a total of $16.1 M over the course of the next 3 years. This is on top of the $220M we paid to AIR for the standardized test contract. One should ask, why Utah? Well, it’s not because of demographics.

Please take a look at their results. 37% of boys are “proficient” in Language Arts. That’s barely ⅓ of all boys! Only 21% of hispanic boys are “proficient.”  Remember their demographics vs. Florida.

But wait, there’s more! Some lawmakers in Utah want the test gone!

 

Money and Motives

I am not a conspiracy theorist. Not in the least. I don’t think that common core is an indoctrination into Islam or communism. But what I do know now is that there is big money in education these days. Let’s break it down. So the state of Florida is in it for $280M thus far between AIR and Utah. The schools must all have sufficient bandwidth and computers.  Common Core Curriculum = new materials and text books. Failing kids = new remedial curriculum and more classroom time which means more books and tests. New test = new test prep. New math that parents don’t understand = tutoring centers, math apps, computer programs for home and school.

Meanwhile, as teachers and administrators struggled to meet the law’s demands, the education industry responded. For more than a century, private companies had sold textbooks and other educational supplies to public schools, but now, particularly with the advent of the Internet, the marketplace exploded. The range of new offerings included the state tests. In Florida alone, the British publishing conglomerate Pearson was paid two hundred and fifty million dollars over four years, to administer the FCAT. Then there were test-prep products, mostly digital, that promised to improve scores by helping teachers track students’ progress. (Neil Bush had entered the field, with Ignite, an education-software firm geared toward middle-school social studies, science, and math, which he started in 1999.)

the New Yorker 1/26/15

Education has become big business thanks to policies by Jeb Bush, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Pearson is a big winner. It is an industry and our kids are for sale.

Data Collection and Money

Students are being reduced to bits of data and that data is being collected and sold. It’s a cottage industry unto itself.

 

Pam Stewart and the FLDOE are Bullies

One example: The superintendents of each school board in the state had to certify that their district had computer infrastructure in place to handle the load of FSA.  They were given no other option than to agree.

Two: To take the test, our kids must sign a document acknowledging that they will not discuss the test with anyone or put any information on social media.  So they are not allowed to tell me, THEIR MOTHER,  what was on the test according the rules? Yeah…okay. What if they do? They invalidate your test – give you an NR2  – which is the same code you will get if you opt-out. There is no option to say, “no, I might want to tell my mom or my brother why I didn’t understand… or tell my teacher that a question had a typo…or…or…or…” They must sign the confidentiality agreement. Is it actually legally binding? No. Of course not. Unless your child is 18+. But did it scare your kids? Probably.

#3: Threaten educators against saying anything bad about the test or letting you know your option to opt-out. Teachers and administrators want you to know how bad and unfair this test is, but they’re not allowed to tell you. Teachers want you to advocate for your kids, but they might lose their job if they do.  Some 3rd graders vomit before taking the test, many cry. Did your kid? You’ll never know because the teacher is not allowed to tell you. If they do, their teaching certificate is in jeopardy.

To Facilitate Change

My kids have spent countless hours on test prep of one kind or another. Be it a load test to see if the infrastructure was sufficient for the test to be given on the computer, practice tests, benchmark tests, pretests, getting familiar with the computer program, etc. They have gone on block scheduling 2 times in the last few months so they could take benchmarks. They have to condense 180 days of Algebra curriculum down to what? 100/120 days because of the FSA and the End of Course exam being given over a month before school is over? They have to be quiet, have alternate scheduling, sit in a single classroom and learn NOTHING during “testing season” because others are testing. This is time that they’ll never get back in their education. Libraries are closed, computers cannot be used for purposes other than testing because we cannot add more load to the broadband connection.

Teaching is being reduced to a script written by a for profit company. Teachers are losing control over what is happening in their classrooms because of mandates from legislators who are being lobbied by big education businesses. Teaching is an art. It is about connection. It is not about getting ready for a test that is designed for 70% to fail.  Our best teachers are leaving because they are being forced to do things in the classroom that they know is not good for OUR KIDS! They are leaving for OUR KIDS!

I want authentic assessments to count. I want my kids’ teachers to lead their instruction, not some conglomerate who happens to have holdings in an educational company. I want my kids to have time to not understand something in school and the teacher have time to reteach it. I want them to have time to explore and learn deeply.

Parents have to be the ones to step up now to say that we will not let our children’s future be at the mercy of a of big business back-room deal.  How do we do that? We deny the data. We opt out. We refuse. We take a stand. We get our older kids involved in their education and let them use their voice.

All that money that I referenced before? Can you imagine if it was funneled back into the classroom? Into teacher retention and salaries?

 

But my kid will do fine…

My kid will be uncomfortable/nervous…

My kids will do fine, too. They always have. And no kid wants to do something that is different than the norm. Talk to your child, they know that what’s going on sucks. Find out your district’s policy. An NT or NR2 score will not hurt your child, their teacher, their school or the district, there are other “data points” on which your child will be evaluated with under Seminole County Schools policy (I cannot speak of other districts). But think about the stress of 9 hours and 20 minutes of testing on your 12 year old. It’s much less stress for the few minutes to inform the proctor…

 

So that’s just some of why I’m on a tirade. That’s why I inundate my Facebook page with education articles. There are other factors in play, but these are MY main reasons for being on my soap box every time education or school comes up in conversation. I want the best for my kids, for all kids. (cue: Whitney Houston…”I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way…” –now the song will be stuck in your head. You’re welcome ;))

 

Need more information? For Seminole County, FL – join us at Opt-Out Seminole

Orange County, FL : Opt-Out Orlando

Or search for your local district’s Opt-Out page on Facebook:)

+ - 49 comments

  • Jennifer Helm - March 1, 2015 - 2:15 pm

    I’m sharing!

  • […] WHY MY KIDS ARE “OPTING OUT” OF THE FSA (FLORIDA HIGH-STAKES TEST) […]

  • Larry Richards - March 1, 2015 - 4:25 pm

    I am not opting out however I completely understand and agree with all of those who are. This sums up the situation and the battle very well.

  • Simone Jadot - March 1, 2015 - 10:56 pm

    wonderful article. Sharing on my FB page!

  • Mandy Bailey - March 2, 2015 - 6:23 am

    We live in Brevard County and are opting out. You’ve summed up information I’ve spent hours researching. Thanks & great letter!

  • Mary Lynn - March 2, 2015 - 7:13 am

    Fabulous! Well thought out, well written and really on the mark!

  • L - March 2, 2015 - 7:51 am

    Well said, I am an educator and a mother. I have a son in third grade who had already asked if he will fail third grade because of this test. He is an A-B student but is a nervous child when it comes to things like this. I want to opt out the tests for him, but, as an educator, how does that look to the public AND to my employers. It’s a difficult dilemma, one where my husband (also a teacher) and I want what’s best for our child. But, unfortunately, must also think of public perception. It’s a grave time in education. As my MIL, a retired educator, says, “it had to get better soon, right?”

  • Susan Nowell - March 2, 2015 - 8:08 am

    This has gone way beyond sanity! It’s time to stand up and say no to the beaurocracy!

  • Sheila - March 2, 2015 - 9:33 am

    requesting my child not take this test its a joke

  • Kerry Prodromides - March 2, 2015 - 10:24 am

    Fabulous, right-on article! As a former elementary school teacher, I agree wholeheartedly with everything you’ve written in this article. Thank you for being our voice!

  • Parent - Seminole County - March 2, 2015 - 12:36 pm

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and the information provided! My 8th grade child is legally participating by opening and closing the test … as he is forced to participate by law. Though in 7th grade he took the ACT and scored high enough to enter college, he is in an IB program for gifted students, he is a straight A student and has already enrolled in Seminole State College and high school which he will begin in August 2015. This test seems only to reduce his school record, deplete the teachers and lower his self-esteem and increase his stress and anxiety towards school. He personally would like to take vocabulary, spelling and Shakespeare which were all skipped in 8th grade due to the testing mandates. In fact, when asking the school if he could read Shakespeare last summer for his summer reading, he was told no by the school. This testing thing is OUT OF CONTROL!

  • Patti Denniston - March 2, 2015 - 1:06 pm

    Thank you. Well written article. Am sharing on my Facebook page encouraging EVERYONE to get on board. By the way I have raised 4 children in two generations in the public school system in Orange County Fl as well as myself having been through the Orange County Public Schools. I have never seen anything so appauling as this testing situation Nd how very much is dependent on it. Makes no sense at all. Please keep up with the posts.

  • Sharon - March 2, 2015 - 5:55 pm

    what will happen to 3rd graders who opt out?

  • Stephanie heart - March 2, 2015 - 7:50 pm

    you haven’t even touched on our children with accommodations. Our special needs children who have accommodations such as all test questions read to them just recently found out that the writing portion can not be read to them. If that’s the case we aren’t writing but reading. You haven’t given our students the skills to master a new test when you are still using accommodations for the old test which are not relevant anymore!

  • TeacherMomma - March 2, 2015 - 8:45 pm

    As a Mother & teacher- this has to end!

  • Crystal - March 2, 2015 - 9:30 pm

    How do you opt out for citrus county?

  • Jala - March 3, 2015 - 8:15 am

    I’ve been homeschooling my kids for the past two years. Now they are houng back to middle school this coming year. What can I do for them to upt-out of FSA? What do I need to go?, where to go? Thank you for sharing this information!

  • Ray Rodriguez - March 3, 2015 - 8:53 am

    Thank you very much for clearing up so much about these standardized tests. I believe education should NOT be for profit at all but socialized, label me what you will, it’s about sharing knowledge with ALL people and doing it in a way that each individual can absorb in his/her own way. Thx!

  • Patricia Carter - March 3, 2015 - 9:58 am

    I have read the full email as well newspaper articles and followed on TV any pertaining to this subject. I have 2nd grade grandchild in Orange county and a 8th grade great grand child in Lake county. I find my children at great risk in the hands of unprofessional governmwnt, instead of the professional teachers on the front line of education!

  • Bill Shifley - March 3, 2015 - 10:08 am

    Kerry Prodromides its your uncle bill i just wanted to say that we are sending late gifts down for chirstmas tell the kids i said howdy and i love them very much also tell sharron i hope the abortion goes well i am praying for you guys with loove from uncle bill and aunt elaine

  • Tere - March 3, 2015 - 10:09 am

    Thank you for this. Helpful, encouraging and informative. Thank you.

  • […] has decided to opt her children out of the Florida Standards Assessment. A full version of this post appeared on her blog, here. She is also a member of the Opt Out Seminole on Facebook, which advocates for multiple measures of […]

  • Beth - March 3, 2015 - 11:53 am

    Excellent post.

  • Barbara Reyes - March 3, 2015 - 4:26 pm

    As a former Elementary Teacher of 36 years I give this article an A+
    This SUMS UP exactly what’s going on in our Education System in the State of Florida. THE SYSTEM is treating our children as objects in order to put $$$ in their pockets. I will share this article with all my friends and I hope this will be an eye opener to many. We ALL must stand for our children and our Educators as they are all with their hands tied. Thank you for for putting into words what many of us are thinking.

  • shawn - March 3, 2015 - 7:28 pm

    You mentioned out legislature taking the test. . They did and failed it. It was Medford on the late night news one evening.
    I agree this is totally crazy. My son is freaking out over the test. I wrote to the Orange County School board and Tallassee and they responded “sorry but this is what we feel is best for our kids”. Total B.S.

  • Acelyne godshall - March 3, 2015 - 8:51 pm

    This is so true. I totally agree with this. This is all just wrong and this is why less and less people are not graduation and getting good jobs.

  • lori - March 3, 2015 - 11:28 pm

    Very interesting information. Had I known, I would have opted out my child. I work in IT for a FL school district. Monday was the first day of testing and it wasn’t a huge success. The FLDOE was working with AIR & FSA into the night to get issues resolved. My school location started testing today & had to delay over 30 minutes because the program froze just trying to get to the login screen. The infrastructures/bandwidth/out dated equipment can’t handle the volume and schools don’t have enough computers to accommodate the short testing window. Sad that we are paying all of this money for a test from Utah when Utah is invalidating their test results. It’s also a disgrace that so many are profiting from testing yet the school employees go without raises for years, 4 years in my district since we’ve had a raise.

  • DH - March 3, 2015 - 11:29 pm

    Ok. I read that teachers’ effectiveness and merit pay are tied to the results of this test. What happens to the ratings and pay while parents are trying to make a point? As a teacher ( not in FL) I am not a fan of high stakes testing, but how does this affect the teacher?

  • lynne - March 3, 2015 - 11:35 pm

    An NR2 does not affect merit pay (VAM) or school grades. The beauty of an NR2 :)

  • Katie Spetman - March 4, 2015 - 1:02 am

    It is so refreshing to learn of (clearly intelligent!) parents that share the same viewpoint that I have been preaching for years! Thanks you for writing this enlightening article! I believe you forgot to mention (or weren’t aware of) the extreme threats that are made over this stupid test. My third grader is tormented with absurd threats of not moving on to Fourth grade if she doesn’t pass the test! She has mentioned this nearly every day for the last couple months (sometimes nearly in tears) and I am fed up with the BULLY techniques that Gilchrist Elementary is using on their students!

  • lilly - March 4, 2015 - 3:50 am

    Does anyone know if in dade county a student decides to opt out of testing for 7th grade civics,will they be held back?

  • Lidia - March 4, 2015 - 1:21 pm

    My daughter’s in 3rd grade. How can I opt her out, please advice.
    Thanks

  • Lidia - March 4, 2015 - 2:42 pm

    My daughter’s in 3rd grade. How can I do or what can i do to opt her out of taking the FSA?
    Is there a form thats needs to be filled out or just write an opt out letter to the school?
    Please advice.

  • Christy - March 4, 2015 - 4:51 pm

    I am not opting out. However,I do agree with what is being said.My children shouldn’t have to be stressed over something like this at such a young age. All we are doing is putting more pressure on them.There is nothing wrong with 2+2=4 and that’s that. I don’t think you need to go in depth of why 2 is 2 and both equal 4. When you complicate a situation, you just make it that much harder on everybody involved. Additional stress causes health issues. I don’t want my children to be having anxiety over a test that really won’t help her. We all went to school and passed with flying colors. The children need to be children and not be worrying all year over a test that can make or break them. My child doesn’t even have enough time in the day to simply go outside and play after homework. To me it’s about balance.

  • Karin - March 4, 2015 - 7:03 pm

    You really did your homework. Very well researched. I agree with you 100%

  • lynne - March 4, 2015 - 10:34 pm

    the civics EOC is 30% of their final grade, you’d take a big hit on the grade.

  • lynne - March 4, 2015 - 10:34 pm

    The bullying is out of control by some school boards and staff. We are so lucky in Seminole. Seriously, I count my blessings.

  • lynne - March 4, 2015 - 10:36 pm

    You need to look into the opt out group for your county. You don’t have to take the FSA, but more than likely they do need to take another Nationally normed exam which varies from county to county such as the ITBS, the SAT-10, etc.

  • Michelle Lopate - March 4, 2015 - 11:10 pm

    Beautifully written! Thanks for sharing your insight into this issue.
    It’s a tragedy for educators who are trying to inspire lifelong learners.
    I am pulling both of my kids out of public school at the end of this year. I am fortunate to have this option.
    Why aren’t we allocating to pay higher wages with our taxes, for the best mind; to attract the best teachers for our children’s education,?

  • Kim Powers - March 5, 2015 - 9:23 pm

    my son is in 6th grade and took the writing test. Is it too late to opt out of the reading portion or are they interlinked?
    Please advise as I really don’t want him sitting any more tests.

  • Nikki - March 5, 2015 - 9:56 pm

    i actually emailed our county’s superintendent that the amount of testing our children must undergo takes away from valuable instruction time. I never received a reply. CGA, Common Core, FSA, and I-Ready tests are in addition to productive tests assessing your child’s retention of materials covered during lessons. I’m trying to figure out how our teachers make time for lessons in between all of these tests and their preparations.

  • lynne - March 6, 2015 - 12:09 pm

    Apparently NOT! We just found out if they refuse any aspect of the test, the entire test is then given NR2 :) It’s really good news!

  • Maria - March 7, 2015 - 1:13 pm

    Lynne your article was very eye opening. Thank you sharing this information. I will pass on this information to my community

  • Mar essa Cavalcanti - March 11, 2015 - 10:19 am

    You have my support as I was reading I felt as you were reading my mind, I have been saying this over and over again. I do not agree with this new test system, I’m furious and fell like we are being forced to accept it. It feels like a dictatorship were the people have no say in it.

  • Maressa Cavalcanti - March 11, 2015 - 10:22 am

    You have my support as I was reading I felt as you were reading my mind, I have been saying this over and over again. I do not agree with this new test system, I’m furious and fell like we are being forced to accept it. It feels like a dictatorship were the people have no say in it. I hope

  • Amy - March 11, 2015 - 7:11 pm

    Is anyone familiar with this process in Jacksonville, Duval County?

  • Damon - March 16, 2015 - 6:36 pm

    Wonderful Info,My child is in the 3rd grade and has been diagnosed with ADD and the school is trying hard not to give her the help she needs to take the FSA.Does any one know how to opt out in Hillsborough county
    and if there are any consequences towards moving to the 4th grade?

  • Liz - March 18, 2015 - 11:15 am

    My 9 year son is in 3rd grade was certified :gifted from the state of Florida in 2nd grade. He’s in advanced classes and a pretty good student overall. These test have caused him a great deal of stress/ he cries and states his teacher told him he might not pass and he has a tremendous amount of anxiety from the thought of taking them. I do practice exams with him and I don’t get it. I’m a 44 year old woman who went to Catholic school my whole life never did anything like this. I think these test are useless and cause way too much stress for our children who are already growing up in a very stressful world!

  • […] WHY MY KIDS ARE “OPTING OUT” OF THE FSA […]

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