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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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