For Donna Mace, with gratitude


by Sandy Stenoff

Last Tuesday, public education lost a friend, an ally, and a mentor.

Donna Yates Mace of Green Cove Springs, Florida was an elementary school teacher in Duval County Public Schools from 1980 until she retired in 2015. She was a lifelong Florida educator, and so, even after thirty-five years in the classroom, a quiet retirement was not for her.

You may never have met or even heard of Donna Mace, but if you’ve had a child in a public school in the past few decades, your life has been touched by her work as one of the strongest allies in the fight to save public education, especially in Florida. While most of her activism was concentrated in Florida, she supported activists all over the country.

As news of her passing spread on Tuesday, condolences have been shared from across the country. A few of those heartfelt tributes are shared here with permission:

“One of the interesting things I have considered over the years is how I have interacted with people, come to know their beliefs and intentions and have been so touched by the goodness of their being, and yet… I would never recognize them in a crowd. It is a strange and beautiful phenomenon that we can be so very touched by someone and yet never physically touched by them. I am sorry to hear of Donna’s passing. I just hope she is now at peace.“
~ Becky L. Noël Smith, Assistant Professor – California State University, Fresno and Co-Founder, The Opt Out Florida Network

“Donna, lifting you and your family in prayer. It was an honor to do this work with you, an honor to know you, and to learn from you. Your memory and work for teachers and children will be eternal.  Rest in Peace, dear friend.”
~ Marla Kilfoyle, Grassroots Liaison, Network for Public Education and former Executive Director of National BATs

“Donna was a force of nature.  She’d put the family in the car and travel around Florida to make a difference for the students and teachers.  She also helped many parents make it through the Opting Out process.  We’ll miss her so very much, but carry on with her spirit always by our side.  Thank you for sharing her with us.” 🌹
~ Dr. Trudy Jermanovich, Broward County Public Schools, Retired

Over a decade ago, Donna became a dear friend and mentor to those of us who were new to the fight, teaching us the back stories, the players, and showing us how to pace ourselves. A staunch unionist and a fierce public education activist, she fought to protect public schools.

In The Opt Out Florida Network, Donna was a dedicated administrator in many local groups, helping parents and teachers to advocate for students, remaining devoted to Opt Out Clay and Opt Out Duval. She helped to promote more meaningful education for students by sharing resources, guidance, and moral support. Never one to seek recognition or reward, she was more concerned that the students’ needs were addressed or that the teacher was heard.

A skilled networker, Donna spread the word about important legislative updates and urgent calls to action across her network of education activists. Staying current on the latest news and legislation is vital to providing reliable information and she spent countless late nights poring over documents, reports and articles. She understood the importance of each vote and urged everyone to be an informed voter. Donna was no keyboard warrior. She walked her talk and modeled for us what a public education activist can be and do.

Donna didn’t wait to retire from teaching to become vocal and active in the fight against education “reform” as she saw the problems early on. Before “Opt Out” became a protest, Donna was a warrior in the fight against education “reform,” as a core member of Stop Senate Bill 6 in 2010, one of the most successful campaigns against bad legislation in Florida.

In 2011, she inspired Florida activists to join her at the Save Our Schools March in Washington DC, out of which evolved the nationwide opt out movement to reclaim public school classrooms for authentic teaching and learning by refusing high stakes testing, used to defund public schools, label teachers and harm students.

Donna Mace (far left in the hat) with Rosemarie Jensen (center) at the United Opt Out conference in Fort Lauderdale in 2015

Fiercely protective of her teacher community, she was a core administrator for the Florida BadAss Teachers (FL BATs), a pro-public education/social justice advocacy activist group for teachers. She empowered veteran and novice teachers alike by listening to their heartbreaking stories, empathizing and commiserating about the challenges in public schools, encouraging them toward hope and optimism to best support all children.

As the quintessential education activist, Donna wore many hats. She loved being a BAT and she was most definitely Badass.

A few of us were looking for photos of Donna to share here with you, that aren’t out of focus or photo-bombed, and we all agreed that she would be laughing at us over this.

Donna also founded “Red for Ed,” to create a unified message in support of public schools and public school teachers. So the next time you see Red for Ed at a school board meeting… that was a gift of solidarity from Donna Mace. We mourn this loss with our friends and fellow activists at BATs and #Red4Ed.

A perpetual student of life, travel as education was one of Donna’s passions and her friends lived vicariously through her stories of summers spent in Central America with her family. She was so wise, yet never stopped wanting to learn more. Even as she struggled with her illness, she still continued to read everything she could and continued to share her knowledge.

First and foremost, Donna Yates Mace was a beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Her family was her pride and joy. This is from her Facebook profile and sums up why she continued this work, even after her children were grown. Her fight to protect public education was not only for her children and her grandchildren, but for all children.

Donna Mace made the world a better place by being a force for good. She was a class act, approaching life’s challenges with courage, grace, humility, humor, and optimism, We all benefited from Donna’s wisdom, gained from her experience as a lifelong educator and a life well lived. She really was the best of us.

To the Mace family: Our thoughts are with you now and we send you love, gratitude, and a wish that your fondest memories will bring you peace and comfort.

If you would like to reach out to Donna’s family, you may do so on her Facebook page: Donna Yates Mace.

Florida’s FAST and BEST… what about them?


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by Sandy Stenoff

Testing began THIS WEEK.

Students will be tested NOW on everything they are supposed to know AT THE END OF THE YEAR. Students may or may not be told that there will be questions they may not be able to answer. However, they will know when they are unable to answer a question, and for some students, especially for the youngest ones, this will be devastating.

We cannot tell you to opt out or not to opt out.

No one knows yet what the tests actually look like, how a student would opt out, or what the consequences of the test will be.

We’ve compiled some of the information shared with us by teachers from across the state. We hope you read it carefully. PLEASE READ IT ALL THOROUGHLY.

In spite of the lack of clarity from the state, we do know a few things concretely:

  • The test is still secret. Teachers cannot see it.
  • State law still says the test is not the sole determiner of high stakes decisions such as, retention, promotion, or remediation.
  • There are STILL alternative assessments to be used for good cause exemptions for promotion to fourth grade, and for other placement decisions.

You may have heard that the test is “adaptive.” 

Teacher 1 explains:

Opting out is a tricky concept with STAR.  

The act of opting out on FSA has never been an official thing. It’s been a form of constructive refusal. By not showing up on testing day, or breaking the seal and not answering enough questions, your child wouldn’t receive a score. On the computer-based test, students simply click through without answering any questions.

HOWEVER, with STAR, there are quite a few things that prevent the same methodology from being used. Historically, each question has been timed and the computer progresses automatically to the next question once time is up.

  • There is no way to skip a question without answering either.
  • At the end, a score is issued even if NO QUESTIONS are answered.
  • We don’t know how that score will negatively impact students. 

We also know that

  • STAR has been used as a method of promotion for 3rd graders who do not pass FSA.
  • Mandatory retention still exists for 3rd grade, at minimum. 

As for FAST, nobody has ever seen the format for it or how it’s scored.. so you won’t get any reliable advice until it’s rolled out.

We don’t even know if they can click through. FAST is supposed to be adaptive. Meaning questions get easier or harder based on responses, so you can’t actually move on without a response.

In fact, the “next” button doesn’t even show up on STAR until you click an answer.

FSA, by comparison, has the same exact question set for everyone. Same 30-32 questions. It doesn’t matter if you get question 3 wrong.. question 4 will be the same on everyone else’s.

In simple terms – if Johnny gets number 3 wrong, on a 3rd grade, 2nd month question.. or a 3.2, it would move down to a 3.1 question. If he gets it right, it moves up to a 3.3 question. 

In basic application, a student can see any of 160 questions during their STAR test. Those questions could be completely different from what their neighbor sees.

There are actually 34-35 questions given out of the 160 question item bank.

In the above example.. question 4 has 2 different options. Question 5 has 4 different options, and question 6 has 8 different options. Question 7 is usually a new domain, and the pattern starts all over again.

This video has a nice visual: STAR Testing – Adaptive Testing Explained

July 18 – Teacher 2:

According to what I am reading, these benchmarks are NOT tied to report cards or individual grades. That would not make sense as they are tools “meant” to drive instruction. The last session may be used to determine promotion and what that might look like for a student. (PreK-8). I do agree with the concerns about the increased responsibilities of the teachers.

Parents of students with special needs (ESE), with an IEP or a 504, should be especially concerned with the following:

Q1: If they are computer adaptive, how would a paper test be administered? What will ESE kids with IEP for paper based tests do? DOE said at the teachers workshop, they should not take test 1 and 2.

A: PBT tests will need to be transcribed within the testing windows…at least 2 people will need to be in the room to witness the transcription.

What we were told today is that, at this moment, ESE Liaisions are conducting meetings to determine the necessity of the PBT accommodation because now, the state is questioning this accommodation in cases like, the student needs PBT for state testing but participates in, let’s say iReady computer based assessments or STAR assessments…they are starting to hold schools accountable for the reasoning to decrease the number of PBT accommodations.

Q2: My daughter is in 10th and has a medical necessity for PBT. She has it on her 504 for all state testing. She hasn’t taken the FSA or iReady in 3 years. She has received PBT for her EOCs. Who, at the high school, would be able to answer questions-testing coordinator?

A: Testing Coordinator, who is usually an AP at the school.

Q3: What about for the writing portion? How are we to expect kids as young as 4th grade to not only put together an essay but “type” it out in the time frame given. They don’t type normally in school. Heck typing isn’t even taught at school.

A: The only thing I know about writing is that it too is computer based. Best guess? Lots of practice. I would also suggest reading what’s on the DOE website.

Teacher 2: District leaders have said that not taking PM1 and PM2 is for this year only if, and only if the ESE teams find that the PBT accommodation needs to stand. This is simply because the state is not ready for PBT…

Teacher 2: ESE children have accommodations for a reason. The point is … the state forgot to plan for our children!

Teacher 3: PM3 will be high stakes just like always, for kids, teachers, and schools.

Teacher 4: All sessions are considered High Stakes is what we were told today

Teacher 5: What I understand that to mean is that it will not be a “grade” for students on a report card. They may not be part of the school grade either.

Teacher 2: PM 1 and P2 (the first 2 sessions are not part of the school grade, however, the final session (PM 3) is.

Teacher 6, Kelly Dunn Lowenberg:
“I hope ESE parents, teachers, students, and advocates get together and raise holy heck. A public school, county, or state can’t just say, “We don’t have an alternative.” You HAVE to. It’s a federal requirement, not an option. 

I would say I can’t believe no one thought about ESE accommodations when they came up with this. However, I’m betting no one involved has ever stood at the front of a classroom, meaning they wouldn’t think about learning differences. 

So yeah, I *can* believe no one said, “Hey, not all children can use computers.”
With attribution is fine- I’m out of the ed biz, so they can’t punish me.”

Statewide Assessment Update – Page 39

July 27 – Teacher 2: Re: the newest assessments called FAST:

ELA FAST is grades 3-10; Math FAST- 3-8, because some 8th graders take the ALG-1 EOC as you know.

Accountability means:

PM1 and PM2 (the first 2 testing sessions) are meant to drive instruction, however there is no real direction from the state with regard to this actually happening. There will not be a gradebook or report card grade for these 2 sessions.

The 3rd session (PM3) replaces the past “Spring FSA testing”. This is the only assessment that will count, out of these three sessions for accountability reasons: 3rd grade promotion, school grades, teacher evaluations…

Writing FAST: is separated from the ELA scores

Accommodations: there is no Paper-based accommodation for the first 2 sessions this year. There is special language from the state regarding this accom. so if your student has this or needs this, you may need to ask an admin. at your school.

Stay tuned…I’m scrolling through to see if I can answer other questions…

Teacher 3: ALL tests are computer based  with results being available within 24 hours. Test questions are still considered “secure,” so the questions will not be made available to teachers and/or parents.

Teacher 6: This info was presented thru my district office and said to come straight from DOE. The state has put out the testing windows, which open as early as the end of August for some or most. Students must be assessed within this window and no other time frame. The window is about 5 days long. Remember also, that only one subject can be assessed per day and there is no answer as of yet how long the sessions will be. What is known is that there are predicted to be the same number of items, as well as the same types of items on the tests as before. In addition, each district/school must also use their own progress monitoring tool on a more scripted timeline as well. For example, some ELA students will be assessed on a weekly basis while some math students will be assessed every other week.

Middle school info…

Calculator usage: no handhelds are permitted unless it is an accommodation (NEW); also 6th graders will have a session that required the use of a calculator (NEW). Math has 2 segments, both of which will be taken in the same day, while reading has 1 session as does writing. Another change: students sitting in an advanced course (example: 6th grader taking advanced math which contains 7th grade material) will take the 7th grade FAST assessment.

So many questions…what if the student is sick during the 5 days? Is there a make up? Can they opt out? How? What grades? Are these tests used for grade promotion or graduation?

ONLY the 3rd session is used for 3rd grade promotion. 

For high school students: It looks like they’ve decided to bring back PERT. This is a good thing.
Click here: to access the FOIL Statewide Assessment Update from the FLDOE to the Florida Organization of Instructional Leaders (FOIL).

Students graduating in the 2021–22 school year will be able to use a lower score on the SAT EBRW, the SAT Reading Subtest, or the ACT Reading test to meet with grade 10 ELA assessment requirement, as well as the PERT Mathematics test to meet their Algebra 1 assessment requirement.




It will take some time for us to revise the opt out guide. We are working on it. In the mean time, please keep reading and staying informed. If you find new information, please share it with us also.




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The FLVS Full Time K-12 State Non-Tester Acknowledgement Form was just shared with The Opt Out Florida Network by a FLVS parent who received it from FLVS.

This form is to be completed only by parent/guardian(s) of students not participating in state testing for the 2021-2022 school year. Link to online form:


  • As far as we know – this does not pertain to brick and mortar schools, nor district virtual programs.

DISCLAIMER*: It is each parents’ responsibility to ensure alternative assessments, NOT the schools’ responsibility. This post by The Opt Out Florida Network recommends and assumes that parents:

This is what you should see when you open the document to fill it out and submit:

Are Districts Testing PARENTS Now? … Fight back.


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by Sandy Stenoff

The executive order signed by Florida’s Commissioner of Education on April 9 waives all FSA requirements for this year and grants districts great flexibility to promote third graders by means other than a test. And yet, some schools are still telling parents of remote third grade students, who have NO documented reading deficiency, that if they don’t send their proficient third graders in to school to take an in-person assessment, they’re going to be retained in the third grade.

Are school districts REALLY prepared to retain proficient third grade students with NO reading deficiency THIS YEAR? – under an executive order?

Parents – Is your school district just testing YOU now? The new parenting stamina test?

If parents have kept a child at home all year because of considerable health risks to the family during the pandemic, AND the school wants the child to take a test in person to prove what the state is not even requiring, then the parents must decide how much of a health risk they are willing to accommodate just to appease the school.

The state is not requiring that third grade students complete a test to demonstrate that they should be promoted. The order is clear. It ALSO permits “OTHER MEANS, reasonably calculated to provide reliable evidence of a student’s performance.

FACT: The Commissioner has said he would LIKE all students to test, but the executive order does not say THAT.

It bears repeating: The state is NOT REQUIRING a good cause exemption this year.

the good cause exemption process provided in s. 1008.25, Fla. Stat., OR OTHER MEANS, reasonably calculated to provide reliable evidence of a student’s performance.

FLDOE – April 9, 2021

At last check, OR still means one or the other. Either. Not both.

When a school threatens harm to a child in order to force parents into compliance with their demands, we call that emotional blackmail. It’s bullying, it needs to STOP and YOU can stop it by shining a light on it.

Districts have publicly repeated the FLDOE’s position on “treating families with grace and compassion.” If the districts are saying one thing, but the schools are doing another, then parents need to ask the district to clarify their position to the schools.

Here’s a letter to district leadership to help you do that:

Dear Superintendent_______________,

We have kept our child at home all school year because of health concerns during the pandemic. I am being told by my son’s school that if he does not come into school for an in-person assessment to satisfy a good cause exemption, then he will be retained in the third grade.

From the FLDOE executive order of April 9 on third grade promotion:

II. Promotion and Retention Decisions
Third grade promotion. Notwithstanding the requirements found in s. 1008.25(5), Fla. Stat., a student may be promoted to grade four, regardless of the absence of an English Language Arts (ELA) assessment score or the absence of a Level 2 or higher ELA score, if the district is able to determine that a student is performing at least at Level 2 on the ELA assessment through the good cause exemption process provided in s. 1008.25, Fla. Stat., or other means reasonably calculated to provide reliable evidence of a student’s performance.”

I am respectfully requesting that the “other means” specified in the executive order be (name’s) grades, which he earned throughout the school year and his report card, which, together, are “reasonably calculated to provide reliable evidence of a student’s performance.”

With the flexibility granted to districts by the state because of the pandemic, and in the absence of a test performed in person – are you prepared to retain a proficient student; to force him to repeat the third grade needlessly, in spite of his demonstrating that he has NO reading deficiency?

From the FLDOE document, Read to Learn:


Retention does not mean that the child has failed. It does not mean that teachers or parents are not working hard enough. It does mean that the child needs more instructional time and help to catch up and meet grade 3 reading performance levels. The purpose of retention is to give children who have substantial reading deficiencies more time and the intensive instruction they need to catch up in reading.

(Name) has demonstrated that he does not have a reading deficiency and is a proficient reader who performs consistently at a level documented to be above average.

Please be advised that (Name) will not be coming into school to take an in-person assessment, merely for a test score that is not required, per the executive order.

Should the school persist in demanding an in-person assessment, I am prepared to withdraw him from school before the end of the school year and register him as a homeschool student, get his portfolio certified for promotion to the fourth grade by a certified teacher and re-enroll him into the fourth grade after summer.

Please advise further. I look forward to your reply.


Remember to CC all school board members, the principal AND your local education reporter.

Be aware that when you send your email, you may receive a reply email – OR a phone call. You may be told things that a district may not want documented. YOU NEED IT DOCUMENTED – such as “that your child will be retained if they don’t take the FSA.” It is important to document all communications with the school. Phone calls are fine. Just be prepared to take notes.

THEN – send an email stating what was discussed over the phone and ask for confirmation of your understanding:

This is to confirm our conversation on (date).

You stated:

Please reply to confirm. Thank you for your kind assistance.



If they won’t confirm it in writing, IT. DIDN’T. HAPPEN.


DOE Order No. 2021-EO-02 – April 9, 2021

FLDOE – Read To Learn

Third Grade Opt Out Toolbox

No more “minimal participation.” We OPT OUT.


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by Sandy Stenoff

Dear fellow parents,

This organization is NOT “The Minimal Participation Network.”

We are The OPT OUT Florida Network. Proudly. 

Since 2012, parents have turned to us in desperation, sharing their outrage and frustration about the campaign of intimidation they receive from schools when they voice any objection to the obsessive and inappropriate high stakes testing, which labels our capable children as failures, with devastating results. We empathize with parents AND teachers’ stories of incessant, weekly i-Ready minutes… or else…; bogus threats of retention that will not happen; unsubstantiated threats of remediation to their (YOUR) children – all based on test scores – FSA scores, to be specific. You are lied to, in order to secure your compliance and deliver up your child to a rigged test. You AND your children are bullied and harassed when you do opt out, even if you call it minimal participation. These are not appropriate behaviors for professional adults in a school environment.

Opting out says, “I do not consent.”

Anything else IS consent.

In our earlier days, when opting out was often met with hostile responses from schools, parents were hesitant to opt out and the term minimal participation was coined by a parent out of good intentions. It was a way to avoid pushback from the schools. But that comes from a place of fear, not empowerment, and it implies minimal effort.

We have rejected minimal participation before.

167526635_10224929786052973_4695478123732889404_n 3

Excerpt from the Opt Out Pocket Guide

Also see here.

Even though we continue to promote opting out in a way that does not affect the precious 95% participation, too many principals tell us, by their words and deeds, that they value school grades more than our kids.

Guess what, folks? 

What minimal participation and 95% participation guarantees is that the Florida legislature will NEVER listen to you. 

Think about it. Why should they?

Not until parents wake up and let it be known, en masse, that we reject their high stakes accountability, will the powers that be hear you.

Years ago, a teacher commented on the lengths parents go to just to make testing less painful for their children. He said to me,

Parents are constantly trying to figure out ways to make what schools do to their kids less traumatic. It’s as if they don’t realize they can shut down all the stupid testing with one, giant, focused protest.

“Minimal participation” is an example of that. It is parental tribute to the very adults who facilitate this broken system of test and punish accountability; a system, which makes children hate school and veteran teachers leave their profession.

It is a misnomer that has also led to the misperception, which implies:

  • that parents who opt out harm our schools. They do not.

  • that opting out is about “just this child.” It is not.

  • that parents, who opt out, thumb their noses at our schools and the people who work there. We. Do. Not. 

There is a bigger picture, and we are all a part of it. 

We know that standardized tests are a better measure of affluence than of true academic ability. When schools don’t “make the grade,” they are labeled as “failing schools” and are denied equitable funding and resources. Such schools are subject to being taken over by private, charter corporations; removing local control, and fracturing close-knit communities, in particular, predominantly black and brown communities.
We OPT OUT of that.

The Opt Out Florida Network objects to high stakes testing in order to strongly support public school teachers, who are also harmed by high stakes accountability. Because of high stakes testing, experienced teachers are fast becoming an endangered species. 
We OPT OUT of that.

No school has ever been denied funding because students opted out. None. Nationally. Not even in the state of New York, where annually, 20% of all students… OPT OUT.

There are many public school teachers, former and current, in our ranks, who not only support the movement with their time, but also opt their own kids out of testing. The behavior of a few rogue teachers or principals is not reflective of our alliance with educators in support of public education. Bad behavior on the part of our schools diminishes public education and it must be called out. Don’t complain about it. Report it. 

This week, a very informed parent notified her child’s school about opting out of the upcoming FSA.

Twice, the principal asked her if she wanted to opt out or “minimally participate.”
Twice, she told the principal that she wanted to “opt out” of all FSA testing for the year…

Principal: “There really isn’t an “opt out” option. “Minimal participation” is better for the school because it shows that we attempted to give the student the test, so they do count in our numbers.”

The irony.

“Please let us know what you would like (Name) to do.”

She did. Twice.
Was the mother not clear enough when she twice communicated,

“My child will opt out of all FSA tests this year”?

…or did the principal just dismiss her?

This principal is not informed enough to understand that minimal participation IS opting out, permitting one action and forbidding the other.  The spelling and meaning are different, but the manipulation of parents and students to test at all cost is what is perpetuated by using the language of minimal participation.

Even though schools know that we have successfully opted out for nearly a decade now, they must continue the line, because heaven help us if they ever gave us permission to opt out and it ends the testing abuse.

Don’t be afraid to call it what it is. Your protection against institutional bullying comes not from appeasing them to keep the peace, but from being informed, so that you can use that knowledge from a position of strength and confidence. You have that information hereContinue reading

Opting Out Of The FSA During A Pandemic


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by Sandy Stenoff

According to the Florida Dept of Education (FLDOE), as of February 2021, 30% of all public school children are still being schooled remotely, including 2.3% in virtual schools.

Many parents have made the difficult decision to keep their children at home, learning remotely, since the beginning of the school year. Some of the reasons we’ve heard from parents seeking opt out information include a parent who has had a heart transplant; a student’s sibling, who has cancer and undergoes chemotherapy; a third grade student who has Type 1 Diabetes, to name a few. All are immuno-compromised and are at high risk of serious illness or fatality if they were to contract the virus.

Update – April 5: Children now playing ‘huge role’ in spread of COVID-19 variant, expert says

In spite of increasing COVID-19 vaccination compliance in Florida and nationally, Florida continues to document the greatest number of COVID-19 variants.

Since January, thousands of new parents have joined The Opt Out Florida Network.

They are asking:

“We’ve kept our 8-yr old daughter home all year long because I have a heart transplant. Her school now says I have to send her in to take the FSA or else she will be retained. Is this true?”

“If, as a parent, I opt to keep my kids out of the classroom because a sibling has cancer, can the school force me to have my kids attend for state testing?”

“My son has Type 1 Diabetes. How do I opt out of the FSA if we’ve been learning remotely from home?

Some superintendents have provided guidance in response to overwhelming demands from parents for guidance. 

Orange County’s Supt. Jenkins addressed the issue of remote learners not attending FSA at the 2/23/21 OCPS board meeting:

District Letters To Parents
Orange County’s letter re-affirms what Dr. Jenkins said at the school board meeting – that “OCPS will not force any families to send kids in for face-to-face testing.”

Seminole County’s letter says they “will respect the decisions that parents will make on behalf of their students.”

From Miami-Dade County, quoting the Florida Commissioner of Education, Richard Corcoran, even as Corcoran maintains that all students must go into school to test in person:
“…the decision to participate ultimately rests with the parents and/or guardian.”

NOTE: None of the districts say that your child will be exempted from the requirements of testing – for third grade promotion or for graduation requirements. Only the governor or the commissioner of education can do that.


  • Florida statute mandates that all districts must administer the test and that all students must participate in the test, but it does not define “participation.
  • Tens of thousands of students have successfully opted out of the FSA since 2012 and have been promoted and appropriately placed, without incident, based on their report cards and teacher recommendations.
  • Nothing we post here is to be considered legal advice.

This post is about HOW to opt out, whether you are learning remotely from home or in person at school.

This post is not about how to get a Good Cause Exemption. ONLY third grade students require a Good Cause Exemption to be promoted. Information on approved Alternative Assessments for Good Cause Exemptions may be found in the Opt Out Guide and in the Third Grade Opt Out Toolbox.


Pushback from schools can be an issue when opting out of “mandatory” state tests, but NOT if you are informed, know what to expect and understand what your real options are.

ALL parents should expect a letter from school, saying, “There is no provision in state statutes for opting out of the FSA.” The letter does not mean that you can’t opt out, just that they have to tell you that you can’t. Please understand the difference.

Some principals and staff are compassionate and empathetic and will help you to get your child through this.

Others will push hard to try to get you to bring your child in to take the test, which, for some families, is not an option now. If the district is saying one thing and your principal is doing another, there is a disconnect that must be corrected. Email your superintendent. If you can’t get a satisfactory response, forward it to your local education reporter. I’m not kidding.

Squeak, wheels. Squeak.

So, how DO you opt out if your child isn’t going into school face-to-face?


  • DON’T send them to school to take the FSA... That’s pretty much it.
  • Once you’ve made the decision not to send your child into school for testing, if you wish to notify the school, as a courtesy, you can find a sample letter to adapt to your own needs here.
  • DO read the updated OPT OUT GUIDE to help you to understand opting out.
  • DO read the Pocket Opt Out Guide, with lots of useful information to share with friends and school.
  • DO use the tools in the Opt Out Toolbox and in the RESOURCES link.
  • If your child is in the third grade, use the Third Grade Opt Out Toolbox to secure a Good Cause Exemption for promotion to the fourth grade.
  • THEN, if you still have questions, please join us here to ask your questions.


Students who are in school, in person, will opt out the same way that they have always opted out.

  1. Sit for the test.
  2. Don’t sign the Test Rules Acknowledgement.
  3. Open the test. 3a) On computer test, student will login.
  4. Push the test away. 4a) On computer, scroll through to the end of the test, without answering any questions and click submit.
  5. When urged to complete your test, politely decline saying, “No, thank you. I’m done.”
  6. Take a nap, read, draw, sit quietly or whatever you’re permitted to do when you’re finished testing.
    (Some students may be picked up from school by parents and returned to school after testing.)
  7. Congratulations! You’ve now opted out.


Some parents find “The Other Opt Out” easier on younger kids, especially when parents are not able to pick them up from school during testing. Kids opting out this way typically do not have to “sit and stare.”

Essentially, you keep your child out of school during the test and return them to school when class resumes. That could be a day of absence or going to school after the test has started. They cannot enter the classroom while testing is in session. The school is obligated to present a makeup test to your child until they either take it, or opt out. You will have to ask how this is done at your school, whether that’s in the classroom, or in a separate classroom with other kids who were either late or absent, like your child, or perhaps even in the office, with just a few other students.

  • Your child can then refuse just like in a regular opt out.
  • Push the test away.
  • When the proctor prompts student to take their test, they would politely refuse and close the booklet (or scroll through to the end, if on computer, and would then be finished.
  • They are usually sent back to class right after that.
  • Again, you would need to confirm with the school how they handle make up testing.
  • The Other Opt Out is also described in the Opt Out Pocket Guide, under Just The Facts.

Even young students understand the issues with testing and what it costs them. Given the choice, your child may surprise you and choose to opt out in person, in their classrooms, with their peers, where many consider it their own “silent protest.” There is value in students advocating for themselves in this way.


GRADE 3No score is better than a failing score.

  • Grade 3 has 2 days of Reading assessments, each counts separately. (No writing)
  • THEREFORE, your options are either to opt out or take the test on both days.
    All in or all out.
  • You can always opt out of the FSA Math.


  • BOTH Writing & Reading tests are needed for a valid ELA score in Gr 4-10.
  • THEREFORE, if a parent decides to opt out AFTER a student in Grade 4-10 has taken the Writing test, THEY CAN STILL OPT OUT of both days of Reading.
School districts establish daily testing schedules within these windows according to state guidance. For more detailed scheduling information for a specific school or district, please visit that district’s website.



  • Third graders are required to have either a passing FSA reading score to be promoted to the fourth grade – OR a Good Cause Exemption. But only ONE is needed.
  • Parents of third graders opting out should work with their child’s teacher for a Good Cause Exemption.
  • Use the tools in the THIRD GRADE OPT OUT TOOLBOX, in particular the information on developing a real portfolio, as opposed to t test portfolio.

Talking About Opting Out With Young Children:
If your younger student finds it difficult not to take a test that their teacher has asked them to take, you may find these conversations with children helpful in getting the conversation started:

An 8-year Old Talks About Test Prep

If I Didn’t Opt Out, I’d Be A Liar

Whether your third grader opts out in person, is merely absent, or fails the FSA, the punitive consequences are the same. The guidelines for ensuring your child meets the state requirements for promotion are the same – they need a Good Cause Exemption to be promoted. 

Parents need to work with the school to ensure a Good Cause Exemption for promotion (since you are opting out), however, it is also in each school’s interest to facilitate promotion.

For detailed information on securing a portfolio for a Good Cause Exemption for promotion from third grade to fourth grade, see the recent post, I’m Not Sending My Third Grader In For The FSA… Now What?


  • To fulfil graduation requirements, tenth graders need a passing FSA ELA score OR a concordant (passing) score on the ACT or the SAT. Only ONE is needed.
  • Students have until the end of their senior year to meet this requirement.
  • Different graduating classes have different cut scores, updated by the FLDOE last year and are outlined in the updated opt out guide. PLEASE READ THE GUIDE.
  • Parents must check the FLDOE website for updates to Florida graduation requirements, which are subject to change by the FLDOE at any time.

Remember that although the FSA is a graduation requirement for a high school diploma, it is NOT a requirement for ANY college admission considerations. 

NO college requires the FSA.


All Other Grades
While third and tenth grades carry risk for not having a passing FSA score, for ALL other grades, opting out is simply a matter of talking your child through why you are choosing to opt them out of testing. 

Notifying the school
If your child is learning remotely and you plan to keep them home, you can just keep them home. It’s up to you whether you notify school in advance or not.

Early notification:

  • Is a courtesy to the teacher, who must plan, especially during the pandemic. 
  • Tells the teacher that you put more trust their ability to assess your child than you do in a single, high stakes standardized test. It puts you on the same side: Your child’s.
  • It frees the teacher to teach your child authentically, as if they were not testing, because they aren’t.
  • Releases your child from the stress and monotony of test prep so they can actually learn to love school.

Specific to this year, early notice to your school puts the state of Florida on notice that a significant number of students will not be counted. The greater the number of parents who commit to opting out, the more meaningless the test administration will be and the more likely it will be that Florida’s governor and Commissioner of Education will be forced to consider cancellation of the test.

Many of you have kept your children at home for various reasons throughout this school year. You have come to us now to figure out how to get your child promoted without an FSA score, perhaps not thinking of sitting out the FSA now as “opting out” in protest.

But, protest you will, no matter what anyone wants to call it; because to refuse to comply with the state’s mandate to test all children, in person, during a pandemic, IS a protest. And we support you.

We encourage you to keep learning more about why you should continue to opt out after this year.



“The “choice” of millions of parents to keep students at home during COVID-19 should mean something significant in the state of Florida. The FSA testing window opens in April and FL Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran is determined to disrespect parents who do not choose to return their child to school to take a test. For those parents, this is a seminal moment. The consequences of returning to school for the FSA could come at a far greater cost than all of Florida’s punitive accountability system combined.”

CLICK HERE: Take action, tell Gov. DeSantis & Commissioner Corcoran to remove all 2021 FSA consequences – including to those students who do not return face-to-face to test.

Orlando Sentinel, March 28, 2021

Opt Out Orlando – Statewide hub for Opt Out discussions
Local opt out groups across Florida
Opt OutFlorida Third Grade – specific to Third Grade and Good Cause Exemption

Opt Out Guide
Pocket Guide
Video – How To Opt Out Of A Computer Test
Opt Out Toolbox
Third Grade Opt Out Toolbox
The Opt Out Florida Network – Be sure to LIKE to get the most current education and testing news

I’m Not Sending My Third Grader In For The FSA… now what?


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by Sandy Stenoff

You’ve kept your third grader at home all year long during the Coronavirus pandemic. 

Now, you’ve received a stern “bully” letter telling you:

“There’s no opt out in Florida and the state requires you to send your child in to take the FSA.”

What CAN you do?

Parents, you are not powerless.
ow is NOT the time to send your child into a school, merely to take the FSA.

Ask for a portfolio.

Superintendents understand that, no matter what “the state” says, some parents will simply not be sending their kids in to take the FSA. Increasingly, they are saying on the record at school board meetings, that they will not force families to send children in to test, and that they will work to achieve Good Cause Exemptions for promotion. 

Please consider replying with a letter sent in an email, like the one below and letting us know how your district responds so that we can continue to provide the most current information to other parents in Opt Out Florida Third Grade and in The Opt Out Florida Network.

In Florida, third grade is the only grade requiring EITHER a passing FSA score OR a Good Cause Exemption to be promoted to the next grade, including a portfolio.
Only one is required.

This sample letter presumes that you are seeking to have your child promoted based on the merits of their work throughout the year, not to substitute the FSA with another test. It also presumes the your child does not have a reading deficiency.

This is not legal advice.

Dear Mrs. Principal,

Thank you for that information. 

This is to inform you that I will not be sending (Name) into school for FSA testing. 

Because of family who are at high medical risk for COVID, we have kept (Name) home since the beginning of the school year. Please understand that putting our family at risk over the FSA test is simply not something that is going to happen.

I am respectfully asking the district for guidance on how to ensure that (Name) will have a Good Cause Exemption to be promoted to the fourth grade. We have trust in her capable teacher, who has assessed her reading skills and ability throughout the year, all documented in her progress reports and report card on file.

Per FLDOE Promotion to 4th Grade Technical Assistance Paper (TAP)


7. “…A parent of a student in grade 3 who is identified anytime during the year as being at risk of retention may request that the school immediately begin collecting evidence for a portfolio.”

As (Name) will not be entering the school to take the FSA, she will not have a test score and may be at risk of retention. I am therefore requesting that the school immediately begin collecting evidence for a portfolio.

To promote a student using a student portfolio as a good cause exemption, there must be evidence that demonstrates the student’s mastery of the Language Arts Florida Standards in reading is equal to at least a Level 2 performance on the grade 3 statewide English Language Arts Florida Standards Assessment. Such evidence shall be an organized collection of the student’s mastery of the Language Arts Florida Standards that are assessed by the grade 3 statewide English Language Arts Florida Standards Assessment. The student portfolio must meet the following criteria:

1. Be selected by the student’s teacher,

2. Be an accurate picture of the student’s ability and only include student work that has been independently produced in the classroom,

3. Include evidence that the standards assessed by the grade 3 statewide English Language Arts Florida Standards Assessment have been met. Evidence is to include multiple choice items and passages that are approximately sixty (60) percent literary text and forty (40) percent information text, and that are between 100-700 words with an average of 500 words. Such evidence could include chapter or unit tests from the district’s/school’s adopted core reading curriculum that are aligned with the Language Arts Florida Standards or teacher-prepared assessments.

4. Be an organized collection of evidence of the student’s mastery of the Language Arts Florida Standards that are assessed by the grade 3 statewide English Language Arts Florida Standards Assessment. For each standard, there must be at least three (3) examples of mastery as demonstrated by a grade of seventy (70) percent or above on each example, and,

5. Be signed by the teacher and the principal as an accurate assessment of the required reading skills.

The school principal shall review and discuss such recommendation with the teacher and make the determination as to whether the student should be promoted or retained. If the school principal determines that the student should be promoted, the school principal shall make such recommendation in writing to the district school superintendent. The district school superintendent shall accept or reject the school principal’s recommendation in writing.
(Rule 6A-1.094221, F.A.C., and Section 1008.25(6)(c)2, F.S.)

I am happy to meet virtually with her teacher to work out any details. I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience. Thank you for your prompt attention to this important request.



Once you send your letter, if you still get push back, send it to your superintendent and district Director of Assessment/Accountability as well.

You are not requesting an alternative test, at least not here. This post is limited to REQUESTING A THIRD GRADE PORTFOLIO ASSESSMENT for a Good Cause Exemption and does not include any discussion of the eight state-approved alternative assessments listed in the FLDOE Promotion to 4th Grade Technical Assistance Paper (TAP).

When you request a portfolio, your district’s version of a “portfolio” may be a collection of mini-FSA tests from the state’s test bank. To begin that “test portfolio” now would mean MORE testing for your child. It may contain up to 42 separate assessments, kept secret from teachers, and covers material that may not yet have been taught. That is not the same as the portfolio of schoolwork supported here. Your child has likely already completed a great deal of progress monitoring testing, unit tests, chapter tests, etc., that could be used for their portfolio, and which may already satisfy most of the required standards – because the teachers have been teaching them.

Read about just how much progress monitoring is done here.

If there is insufficient progress monitoring data for a portfolio, you may wish to consider requesting an approved alternative assessment to satisfy the Good Cause Exemption (that post is coming soon!) 


  • You are not asking anyone to do anything for your child, to which she is not entitled.
  • You are not asking the school to take any action that is prohibited.
  • You are not asking for special treatment.
  • You ARE asking the school district, in this unusual and unprecedented time, to be reasonable and to do what is reasonable, within the framework of what is allowed under Florida education statutes to support your child’s education.
  • The Florida Statute provides alternatives for a Good Cause Exemption when there is no passing FSA score.

From FLDOE Read To Learn:

Therefore, if your child does not have a substantial reading deficiency, she/he should not be retained.

Parents must be strong advocates for their child. The FLDOE documents made available here are public documents. There is no secret. Use them to protect your 

Most important links to support authentic portfolio assessment *

More resources in the Third Grade Opt Out Toolbox. Dig in!

Our Support Network
Opt Out Florida Third Grade
The Opt Out Florida Network

‘Test and punish system’: Parents can opt children out of statewide testing


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Jennifer Sabin is an Admin in Opt Out Polk and was the subject of this article in The Ledger (below). She is an academic advisor at Southeastern University. Jennifer is also a former eighth grade Language Arts teacher from Polk County, Florida, with a BS in Communication from the University of Miami, a mom of three beautiful children and a former Polk County school board candidate. Jennifer has been opting her kids out of Florida’s high stakes tests since 2016.

This article was originally posted in The Ledger
Link to original article:
‘Test and punish system’: Parents can opt their children out of statewide testing
 Kimberly C. Moore The Ledger
Published 7:13 a.m. ET Mar. 12, 2021

LAKELAND — Charlotte Sabin, 13, has been opting out of state Florida Standards Assessment testing for five years now, beginning when she was in the third grade, with no repercussions.

“I was kind of nervous because I was the only one in my school doing it,” she said about not participating with the rest of her third-grade class. “But I also felt really cool because I was sitting there going, ‘All you have to take this test and I’m going to go eat doughnuts.’ The next year, I had a friend who opted out and it was cool because that was the only time in my life I’ve ever been a trendsetter.”

Charlotte, who attends Lawton Chiles Middle Academy, goes to class on testing days, breaks the seal on her test, fills out her name, then her mother, Jennifer Sabin, checks her out of school and the pair head to the doughnut shop. It has become an annual tradition.

Jennifer Sabin, of Opt Out Polk and daughter, Charlotte, 13.

It was Sabin who talked to her daughter about what she feels is the importance of opting out of statewide testing, something she and other critics refer to as the “test and punish system.” That’s because kids who do well in class otherwise are retained in the third grade if they don’t pass the test. In addition, high school seniors who pass all their classes can be held back from graduating if they don’t pass the FSA. And teachers whose students don’t make something known as “adequate yearly progress,” can have bonuses withheld, which, they say, is unfair for teachers instructing struggling students.

Charlotte said her mom “explained that it was a really important thing for her … she explained that it helped the teachers and the students. It would be a great thing to do because it could help bring change. And if you do this, other people might do it, too. I like helping people. It’s fun.”

Sabin said opting out of testing is something most parents don’t realize they can do — despite what any administrator or guidance counselor might tell parents.

Opt Out Polk

Sabin heads up a group called Opt Out Polk, which helps to answer questions from parents who are considering having their child not take the statewide test. Some parents say the test gives their children crippling anxiety, while others say one test should not make or break a child’s progression from third grade to fourth. Failing any portion of the FSA can also keep a high school student from graduating.

Read more about opting out

To read more about opting out of testing, go to:

Standardized testing in Polk County began last week and lasts for several more weeks as students in different grades and in different subjects fill in the bubbles on their answer sheets, click on the right answers on a computer or write essays.

“I think I first realized it because somebody told me, ‘Have you heard of Opt Out?’” Sabin recalled. “I was frustrated with the way the test was being used and I didn’t want my kids to participate in that system of evaluation.”

Sabin teamed up with The Opt Out Florida Network, finding a little-known option for parents: the good cause exemption, which allows parents to use other assessments instead of the FSA, or a student-work portfolio from throughout the school year.

Jennifer has been opting out of the FSA for years. Charlotte, seen here on the right, is noticeably younger in this photo.

According to the Polk County Public Schools webpage, the determination of a good cause exemption for promotion to fourth grade includes:

  • Standford Achievement Test, Tenth Edition, scoring above the 45th percentile.
  • STAR Reading Assessment — scoring at or above the 50th percentile.
  • Istation ISIP Reading Assessment — scoring at or above the 50th percentile.

“Polk County Public Schools fully supports the option of third-grade portfolios as outlined in (state statute), which states that a student who demonstrates through a portfolio that he/she is performing at least at level 2 on the statewide standardized assessment is eligible for good cause exemption,” the website reads.

It is not known how many Polk County Public Schools students opt out because district officials say they do not keep track of that statistic.

Sabin, who is an academic adviser at Southeastern University, said the test was not originally designed to be used the way the state uses it.

“There’s no good reason to take the FSA,” Sabin said. “It wasn’t designed to evaluate students the way Florida uses it. It wasn’t designed to evaluate teachers the way they use   it. The FSA causes harm to teachers and schools. We know it correlates strongly with socio- economic status. It makes it hard for students from low socio-economic status to perform well.”

Pros and cons of standardized tests

State standardized testing came about under the late Democratic Gov Lawton Chiles, who developed the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test — or FCAT — in the 1990s. When Republican Gov. Jeb Bush was sworn into office in 1999, he developed his A-Plus Plan, which for the first time tied state testing to school grades and held struggling schools accountable — allowing students at those schools to transfer to better-performing public schools, charter schools or even private schools and to take their per-pupil funding with them.

And that tie to money is when things got competitive and complicated with testing.

According to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which “promotes educational excellence for every child in America via quality research, analysis, and commentary, as well as advocacy and exemplary charter school authorizing in Ohio,” standardized tests offer objective assessment.

They measure “students based on a similar set of questions, are given under nearly   identical testing conditions, and are graded by a machine or blind reviewer. They are intended to provide an accurate, unfiltered measure of what a student knows,” the institute states.

The institute says the tests offer officials the chance to compare student achievement at the classroom, school, local and statewide levels.

And finally, the Fordham Institute says, “like it or not, standardized exam data remain the best way to hold schools accountable for their academic performance.” The measures enable education officials to identify the schools that need intervention, extra help or even closure.

But opponents say the playing field is not level because students are not all the same.

According to the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, which has 113,573 members who are superintendents principals teachers and education advocates from more than 129 countries, there are multiple reasons standardized tests are problematic.

“Standardized tests exist for administrative, political, and financial purposes, not for educational ones,” the ASCD website reads. “Test companies make billions. Politicians get elected by promising better test results. Administrators get funding and avoid harsh penalties by boosting test scores. Everyone benefits except the children. For them, standardized testing is worthless and worse.”

The association points out that “test companies (a multibillion-dollar a year industry) not only manufacture the tests, they also manufacture the courses and programs that can be taken to ‘prepare for the test.’” And, the association says, tests favor those who have socio- economic advantages because their parents can buy them books, computers and even tutors to help them.

“If you don’t have the money, and your school is in a low socio-economic area that gets less funding than rich suburban schools, then you’re not getting the same preparation for the test as those at the higher socio-economic levels do,” the association website reads.

The association added that standardized tests don’t value the diversity of students taking the tests, who have different cultural backgrounds, different levels of proficiency in the English language, different learning and thinking styles, different family backgrounds, and different past experiences.

The association says the tests cause unwarranted stress for students. And, because teachers know that test scores may affect their salaries and job security, they and their administrators have been caught on multiple occasions cheating.

In December 2008, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper investigation found suspect test scores at five Atlanta-area elementary schools. An investigation was launched and specially appointed state investigators cited multiple cheating violations, along with organized and systematic misconduct in Atlanta  schools.  The  state investigators’ report named 178 teachers,principals and administrators at 44 Atlanta schools, with 80 educators confessing to cheating, according to the report. More than 20 pleaded guilty, while 11 were found guilty of felony charges.

Not all testing is bad

Sabin said that while she does not want her children to participate in something she views as ultimately unfair to everyone involved, she actually has no problem with teachers testing their students.

“There is a common misperception that those of us who support opting out are anti- assessment,” Sabin said. “It’s that assessment done by the professional educator that we rely on as to where (students) are and where they need to be. The teachers are constantly assessing what their students need to know    The five question quizzes — those are the assessments that are valuable. The end of course exams do function differently…… It’s part of their course grade. They’re going to take a 30% hit to their grade, which is going to hurt their (grade point average). I don’t advocate opting out of EOC.”

She said, ultimately, FSA and tests like it are preparing students who want to go to college and graduate school, but not all students are headed in that direction.

“I don’t think we need to spend 10 years of a kid’s education to fill in a bubble in case they want to go to grad school,” she said.

As for Charlotte, without ever taking a standardized test, she is heading to Harrison School for the Arts next year — a high-performing public school with a highly competitive selection process.

Jennifer Sabin of Opt out Polk and daughter, Charlotte, 13

“I’m really surprised that I got in, myself,” Charlotte said. “I would say that I’m pretty good at creative writing. After college, one thing I plan to do is become a book editor because I can get paid to read books. And encourage (authors) to make their book better and grow as a person, as well.”

Ledger reporter Kimberly C. Moore can be reached at or 863-802- 7514. Follow her on Twitter at @KMooreTheLedger.


IMPORTANT RESOURCES to keep you informed in support of your choice to opt out.
This page is updated regularly.

Last updated March 7, 2021

*  Sample Opt Out Letters
*  VIDEO How To Opt Out of Computer Test

* Special Third Grade Opt Out Toolbox
* Opt Out Third Grade 101:
* Navigating Gr 3 Retention Threat:
* Sample Letter Request 3rd Grade Portfolio:
Promotion to Grade 4 Technical Assistance Paper
FLDOE Technical Assistance Paper Third-Grade Student Progression (Pages 5-7)

Much of the push back that you may face from your school, administrator or school district can be challenged by these detailed Fact Sheets from FairTest – The National Center for Fair and Open Testing:
– Federal Law and Regulations on Opting Out Under ESSA (Updated February 2018)
– Why You Can Boycott Standardized Tests Without Fear of Federal Penalties to Your School (Updated February 2018)
1,350+ Accredited, 4-Year Colleges & Universities with ACT/SAT-Optional Testing Policies for Fall, 2022 Admissions – searchable by state (Updated March 3, 2021)
– 925+ “Top Tier” Schools Deemphasizing the ACT/SAT in Admissions Decisions for Fall 2021 per U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges Guide – 2020 Edition (updated December 16, 2020)

What Is A TRUE Portfolio?…and how do I get one?


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When a third grade student in Florida fails the FSA, or opts out of the FSA, they will need a Good Cause Exemption to be promoted to the fourth grade. Parents will need to work with their child’s school to make that happen. The Alternative Assessments allowed by the State for a Good Cause Exemption can be another test, but it can also be a portfolio; a TRUE portfolio, not a battery of secret mini-tests from Florida’s Item Bank and Test Platform.

Kevin Foster is a Lake County father and Administrator for Opt Out Lake County, who opts his child out of the FSA. As a result of advocating for Lake County to include a true portfolio in the district’s Student Progression Plan (SPP), the Lake County SPP now includes language (just one phrase) that supports the use of a true portfolio, for a Good Cause Exemption. A TRUE portfolio is a collection of your child’s work throughout the school year. 

Some districts already include this language in their SPP, but some do not. Some districts, which have true portfolio language (which comes directly from Florida Statute) in their SPP, do not comply with that SPP. Only parents can hold their feet to the fire.

Here’s what Kevin shared:

After several unproductive meetings with various Lake County School District administrative officials, my wife and I were invited by Superintendent Kornegay to sit down for a discussion regarding the Portfolio option as a Good Cause Exemption from 3rd Grade Mandatory Retention.  We discussed a wide range of topics including participating, but minimally, in the FSA, DOE Rule 6A-1.094221, and the results of the (then recently decided) lawsuit by 3rd Grade parents against the State and several school districts.

We explained our view that opting out, or minimal participation (signing the test and pushing it away without answering any questions), satisfied the statutory requirement that all students participate in FSA testing.  

We also pointed out that there was a key part of Rule 6A-1.094221 that was seemingly being ignored by everyone, which stated that, “chapter and unit tests from the district’s/school’s adopted core reading curriculum could be used as part of the portfolio.”

We also explained our view, that it was a waste of precious instructional time to remove a child from the classroom in order to give them a battery of mini-tests from Florida’s Item Bank and Test Platform.

And, we pointed out that the (then) recent Appeals Court ruling against parents answered a key question about who has the final say on promotion to 4th grade.  The Court said it was the Superintendent (not the FLDOE).  We explained that this meant that the process was intended to be a bottom-up thing, rather than a top-down thing, and that teachers and principals should be allowed to make a recommendation for promotion if they believe the student deserves to be promoted.

At the end of that meeting, Supt. Kornegay asked me directly, “What do you want me to do?”

I replied, “I want you to put this specific language about the portfolio from FLDOE Rule 6A-1.094221 into the Lake County 3rd Grade Progression Plan.” 

It said (referring to the portfolio Good Cause Exemption), “Such evidence could be selected from… chapter and unit tests from the district’s/schools’s adopted core reading curriculum.”  This may seem like a small thing, but it’s not.

The very next time that the Progression Plan was up for a vote before the School Board, that language was included in the draft version, and the Board voted to approve it.  It’s been there ever since.  (You can find it on Page 36 of the Lake County Progression Plan which can be downloaded here.

You can also find it on pages 2-3 of the FLDOE Promotion to Grade 4 Technical Assistance Paper

Why is this important? 

Well…  the Chapter and Unit Tests are the work that your child does throughout the school year.  It’s a true portfolio.  If your child does well on those chapter and unit tests throughout the year, there should be no (or very little) need to remove them from class to create a portfolio based on the Florida Item Bank and Test Platform.  Some of those Item Bank mini-tests may still be necessary in order to round out your child’s portfolio if they don’t have all 3 examples of each of the 22 standards.  (Also, keep in mind that they must score at least a 70 for each of those to count as a valid example.)

What if your school insists that they will not start a portfolio for your child until AFTER the FSA has been administered? 

As I see it, you have two options.  You can either educate yourself about the standards and attempt to collect the portfolio items yourself as they come home from school with your child, or…  you could lean on this specific note from the top of Page 37 in the Progression Plan. It’s also in the FLDOE TAP with Rule 6A-1.094221 and Florida Statute cited.

“Note: A parent of a student in grade 3 who is identified anytime during the year as being at risk of retention may request that the school immediately begin the portfolio assessment process.”

If you write a letter to your school principal announcing your intention to opt-out/minimally participate in the FSA, that act alone should immediately “identify” your child as “being at risk of retention,” since retention is mandatory without a passing grade on the FSA. I cannot guarantee that this part of the process will work, but if you think about it, it makes a certain amount of sense.  Be prepared to fight for that “at risk” identification. 

The sooner you write that letter, the better.

If your child’s teacher agrees to develop a portfolio, you should request to examine it from time to time to make sure it’s being maintained. Parents in other districts have been told that a portfolio would be developed, only to find at the end of the year that it was not. You do not want to get to the end of the year and not have that portfolio documenting your child’s proficiency of the standards.

You should also be prepared to compile the portfolio yourself.  If you find yourself in this position, you’ll need to make sure that every “chapter and unit test” which is graded gets sent home to you for your collection.  Every one of those “chapter and unit tests” should include a notation regarding which standards are being assessed.  Note also that a single question may provide for more than one example, and for more than one standard. (Remember, 3 examples of each of the 22 standards are required.)  The sooner you get started compiling the portfolio, the better.

One final reminder:  I cannot guarantee that this will work.  But, it is the process that I envisioned when I asked Supt. Kornegay to add that specific language to our progression plan.  

Remember that opting out is an act of civil disobedience intended to challenge/change the current system. It requires courage and tenacity, but…. if successful, you will have blazed a trail for others to follow.

Good luck.

“The statewide, standardized English Language Arts assessment is not the sole determiner of promotion and that additional evaluations, portfolio reviews, and assessments are available to the child to assist parents and the school district in knowing when a child is reading at or above grade level and ready for grade promotion.”
(Section 1008.25(5)(c)6, F.S.)

– Sample Letter to Request a 3rd Grade Portfolio
– Statutory Third Grade Portfolio Checklist
– Student Portfolio Puts Assessment Where It Belongs… With Teachers
– Third Grade Portfolio Checklist – Working Document (updated 8/22/18)
– Third Grade Portfolio Instructions 
– Special Opt Out group for Third Grade Parents – for help, peer support and strategies to find fair and useful assessment for promotion