Standardized Tests Would Have Ruined My Life

Parents, unless you start making a lot of noise, it will continue getting worse.

Because of the high stakes attached to the FSA, the tests are shrouded in secrecy and security out of all proportion to their actual value. Therefore, most teachers in Florida don’t voice their opinions about testing or the effects and consequences of testing in public.  

So when a teacher is able to reflect on their own life – as a child, a student, and as a teacher – and share their insights into education as it is today, everyone should pay close attention. It’s always special when we hear from teachers, former teachers, and retired teachers, who support our work. 

Yesterday was a special day. 

Jesse George Shoemaker is a retired teacher from Polk County, who shared his letter to President and Mrs. Trump, US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Gov. Ron Desantis, Rep Melony Bell, Sen.Kelli Stargel, the Polk County School Board, and to the parents and teachers in The Opt Out Florida Network:

This document has been sent to the following people. I am trying to tell my story about the sad shape of our US educational system. Please help me tell my story. Please copy and share as you wish.

TO: President Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Melania Trump
First Lady of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Betsy DeVos
Secretary of Education
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202

Ron DeSantis
State of Florida
Office of Governor
The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001

Billy Townsend
Board Member
District 1
Polk County Public Schools
PO Box 391
Bartow, FL 33831

Sarah Fortney
Board Member
District 3
Polk County Public Schools
PO Box 391
Bartow, FL 33831

Lisa Miller
Board Member
District 7
Polk County Public Schools
PO Box 391
Bartow, FL 33831

Rep. Melony M. Bell
11 West Broadway Street
Fort Meade, FL 33841-3303

Sen. Kelli Stargel
2033 East Edgewood Drive, Suite 1
Lakeland, FL33803

Also sent to Opt Out individuals
From: Jesse George Shoemaker
419 Terranova Street
Winter Haven, FL 33884

Included in this communication are several documents:
1. Letter discussing how standardized tests would have ruined my life
2. Reply from Florida DOE as assigned by Governor DeSantis
3. My rebuttal of that reply.

Jesse’s letter is shared here, with permission:

I taught middle school science and agriculture in Polk County, FL for three weeks shy of eight years and was named the Teacher Of The Year (TOY) once. The last three weeks of my eighth year, I could not force my self to go back into the classroom. I could not sleep. I had constant, out of school, panic attacks. I had PTSD. 

In 1968 and 1969 I was an active duty US Marine. I never had a panic attack in the Corps, but I did while teaching. There is something horribly wrong with that fact, horribly wrong with US education. I hope my story will help the enormity of that fact leap into your consciousness and into your actions to improve education.

When I was a child, I had a fever of 107 degrees F that fried parts of my brain. My first name is Jesse. I learned to spell that in the first grade. The first day of second grade I was asked to spell my first name. I wrote Jsees. I was so not-with-it. I did not hear the ‘e’ at the end when pronouncing Jesse. I got so mad I went home and insisted everyone call me by my middle name, George. I would not answer to Jesse at school or anywhere else.

I was in the hospital often during the third grade, due to horrible stomach pain. That year, our hometown pharmacist gave me the wrong medicine and almost killed me. The correct medicine made me sleep through most of third grade. I failed third grade. As far as I knew I was the only kid that failed in that school that year. I was an eight-year-old failure, and I knew it. I knew I was stupid. I knew I was the dumbest kid in my class. I knew I was the dumbest kid in that school.

It did not matter that there was a reason why I failed. Facts may be different from how a child perceives reality. My reality was that I was stupid.

I hated school. I hated teachers. I hated books. I had serious Dyslexia although no one knew what that was back then. I guess they either thought I was stupid, or I simply did not want to read. The teacher gave Mom a “Dick and Jane” reader. Each night after supper, Mom asked me to read. I couldn’t read. She would ask and ask until I cried, and she would give up. As if school was not torture enough, I could expect more torment after supper.

In my head I was alone in a world full of people that were against me. At a picnic in the woods, I went for a walk and came upon a house and garage. The garage had a sign that said Penny Arcade. I ran back and told everyone. We all walked to the arcade. Only, it said ‘Park Yar Carcass’ (P—y arca–). The instant I saw the sign the second time I saw what it really said. Everyone laughed at me and walked back to the picnic. I sat down in the leaves and decided talking was little more than an opportunity to prove my stupidity. So, I stopped talking to everyone except my dog, Ada, a Basset Hound. We took long walks in the woods, sat on a log or stump, and I repeatedly asked Ada, “Why do they make me go to school?” I would hug Ada and cry. I hated all of life, except for Ada. Looking back now, I wonder if Ada saved my life. Dad had given me a lifesaving jewel in Ada.

I thought I was all alone in the world, but now I realize my father knew I needed a friend and something to be good at. He began raising Bassets and became my Little League coach. Ours was the best team in the area. We almost never lost. I was a good third baseman, and I hit home runs.

I was voted the most popular senior in high school. Not bad for a dumb kid. Being an athlete and the class clown was preferable to being the dumb kid.

I was in my 50s when I realized what Dad had done for me. Sadly, he was gone by then.

Sports became my life. I started on my high school basketball team. We were a small rural school, but our senior year we won nineteen games and lost only four. I earned eight varsity letters in high school. My basketball coach and art teacher pushed me through high school. Since I knew I was stupid but was good at physical things, I was on my way to Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island the Monday after my last high school class. I hated school so much I did not go on my class trip or to commencement. I was out of there. I knew I would never go to school ever again. In the Corps I learned I was good at learning by doing.

After the Corps, I kept wondering what I would do for the rest of my life. I began to wonder if I could get through college. I asked my high school English teacher if she thought I should try. She said, “If I were you, I wouldn’t even try.” Today she says she would never have said that to me, but that is what I remember. At the time, that was what my reality was and still is today.

I worked four jobs; painting houses, selling fire alarms, working in a factory, and working at a lumber mill. There was no fun in that life. I decided to give college a try. I did not want to look back when I was 50 years old and wonder what I could have become if I tried going to college. I started at a major university in the AA Agriculture curriculum. I earned a 4.0 my first term and switched to a B.S. degree in Agronomy. Between high school and college my brain began to heal itself, I guess. I taught myself to read in college – albeit very slowly.

The first day of remedial college English, the professor put magazine pictures on a desk and asked us to write about what we saw. I picked a picture of a US Marine recruit on the rifle range. I wrote about the sand fleas and no-see-ums, the heat, my boots constantly being so wet with sweat I had bleeding athletes’ foot, Drill Instructors cussing us and beating one guy to a pulp, and the fear of not qualifying: every Marine must be a rifleman.

The professor graded the papers and handed them out. She gave me mine last and told the class that I had no sense of romance. She said I did not even mention the smell of the gunpowder. I stood up, left class, walked to my room, and began packing to leave college and go home. How could I learn from overly romantic professors who knew less than I knew?

Some of my classmates knew I was a Marine. They raked the teacher over the coals. One student ran to my room and said the professor wanted me to come back. She apologized. Later, in a business writing class I wrote that, “I will contact the manager.” The professor was so old he scolded me that I should never use the word ‘contact’ because that is what the pilot says before the airplane propeller is turned – World War I lingo.

Every aspect of my college education was a nightmare. In an International Marketing course, the professor thought it would be a good idea to barter with Russia, trading agricultural supplies for crops. He had no idea that DuPont traded agricultural chemicals for potatoes and lost their shirt because the Russians harvested green potatoes that basically turned to liquid in shipment. It is a good idea, but if you have no experience you can lose everything. He did not have enough experience to caution his students.

I did learn that education without experience is not worth much. That is precisely one of the things that is wrong with our system of education. There are too many highly placed educators, who have been out of the classroom for so long, that they have lost or forgotten their experience; or maybe they are concentrating on following insane rules rather than using the knowledge they have gained from their experience. Then there are the decision-making lawyers and politicians who have no teaching education or experience.

All my education was worse than pulling teeth. I absolutely hated it. I constantly looked for ways to escape. I convinced my high school Principal I should drop English and Math and replace them with home study Electronic and Photography courses, which I never sent for. A teacher falsified the grades because he knew I was smart enough to work in one of the factories in town. I convinced my college Dean to give me 16 credits for the education I had in the Corps and take a three-month business internship, that I was not qualified for. As it turned out, that internship was responsible for a twenty-year-long career I had with a huge multinational corporation.

In my thirties, I learned I have a very high IQ. I was always able to sort through a problem and find an answer, but my learning did not follow the standard path. Cookie cutter education would have dumped me into a pit of depression.

After college, I worked for multinational corporations for thirty years. I earned a six-figure salary for more than a decade. I had one boss who learned I could sort through difficult, multilayered situations rapidly and suggest successful solutions. He sent me everywhere to fix problems.

I have lived in or worked in five foreign countries and in every state, except Alaska. I have lived a wonderfully exciting and rewarding life. If they had had standardized tests back then, I would never have graduated from high school. It wasn’t always pretty, but I did it my way. I could never have done it formal education’s way. I simply could not take tests successfully. I could not stand to be told what was important to know. I graduated college with a 3.2 GPA. I was a scientist. Under a regime of standardized tests, I would have been a cutoff saw operator all my life.

After retirement, I taught middle school. I had a student that could not sit in a desk for more than a few minutes. Then he would go crazy. He stood up and screamed. I related to that kid. He was me years earlier. I sent him to the garbage to dump my trashcans. I always had something physical for him to do.

That child had no business in regular school, but his grade level would not allow him to attend a vocational school. He was a sixteen-year-old middle schooler. He should have been sent to vocational school, but ‘they’ could not see what he needed. He quit school, is a laborer, has an apartment, a car and a girlfriend. He is happy. He is doing it his way. I wonder what he may have become in a less standardized educational environment. Yet, people miles away from the classroom think they know what is best for every student.

He is proof that ‘No Child Left Behind’ and many of the educational initiatives since have failed miserably. They certainly failed him. These initiatives and Standardized Tests fail the students that need help the most. Our educational system is ludicrous.

Stop this standardized testing nonsense. Stop the age-inappropriate testing. It is horrendous to send elementary children, shaking and crying, to school to take tests that prove very little: test after test after test. Are we purposely trying to make children hate school, hate learning? Try to imagine the reality we are putting into the minds of these children. I’ll bet their reality is far different than we think it is. Get rid of these stupid roadblocks to a worthwhile education.

My wife, Judy Ed,D. was testing a elementary child with special education needs recently. The child looked at her and said, “I’m going to fail this year, ain’t I?” That child had taken many progress monitoring tests. He learned to see himself failing before he takes the state standardized test. He is fluently bilingual (Spanish and English) but has such a severe learning disability, that he can barely read. For him, testing is sheer torture and this otherwise great kid knows he is “stupid.” Stop this ignorance.

We no longer teach math facts. An elementary student spends so much time putting marks on paper to calculate 9×9, they have difficulty finishing the test. And what sense does it make to educate in a way that makes it impossible for many parents to help their children do homework. When a student must read a passage to answer a math question, are we testing reading or math? I could continue with these samples of stupidity for paragraphs.

I am sorry to say that I do not believe our educational system will improve. The system is run by politicians, lawyers, and education EdDs or PhDs who have not been in the classroom for years or ever. You teachers and parents can change it if you mobilize, but change will not happen if you continue your current path of action: doing very little. I fear education will continue to get more ridiculous.

Entirely too much of what ‘they’ want a teacher to do will not significantly benefit the student. You highly placed professional educators should stop telling teachers what to do and show them how to do it. The reason there is so little modeling is that many cannot do what they ask teachers to do.

If I had the power, I would require every school administrator, school board member, every state and federal DOE boss, every lawyer who has anything to do with education, and every politician to spend thirty days straight in an ‘F’ middle school classroom, with no special privileges. ALL of this nonsense would stop immediately.

There is immense value in knowing the student. The best thing teachers bring into the classroom is not their education. It is their empathy, their love, and their humanity. The best phrase I learned in teacher school was, “Give the student what (s)he needs.” If a middle school teacher had the same students in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade (called looping), their relationship with students would become deeper and deeper and the education better and better.

When we switched from elementary – junior high – high school to elementary – middle school – high school, sixth grade became middle school. Any middle school teacher with an elementary teaching certificate cannot teach seventh and eighth grade. Therefore; many middle school teachers cannot loop with their students, forcing those teachers to start from scratch, developing relationships with their students every year – how wasteful!

It should not take a Theoretical Physics professor to see and fix this problem. Whatever could be lost from an elementary teacher teaching seventh and eighth grade would be more than made up by the deeper relationship with students. Or (idea of the century) revamp teacher college education to include what would be necessary to make middle school looping possible for all middle school teachers.

Maybe education administrators are so focused on following the rules they cannot see the trees for the forest. Now we are faced with so much test insanity, that potential teachers cannot pass the test to become teachers. What does that mean? Have our universities become so inept they can no longer teach the basics or are the test creators completely inept?

When my mother (a third-grade teacher) passed, a woman on the other end of the continent wrote on the Funeral Home web page, “I knew I was loved every day in third grade. I was safe, and I learned how to love watching Mrs. Shoemaker.” ‘I can only imagine’ what would have been in that little girl’s mind and heart if she could have had Mom for three years (although I do understand looping in elementary school may be much more difficult).

First the humanity, then the education. The educational system has stripped teachers of their God-given gifts; the prerequisite stuff that enables the education to work. Just imagine how that little girl’s education was catapulted by Mom’s love. Third grade became a heartfelt, lifelong memory for that lady.

Mom was so frustrated with teaching she became a member of the school board. She was never able to make a significant difference in the educational system. 

Parents, unless you start making a lot of noise, it will continue getting worse. Between the US Department of Education, your state Department of Education, your school district administration, and your school’s administration there are so many levels of people, how do you possibly fight it? Get enough parents and teachers together, making enough noise, and it will change quickly. You have the power, use it.

My favorite quote is,

“For of all the sad words of tongue and pen the saddest are these: It might have been!”  (John Greenleaf Whittier)

I have never allowed the system to determine my path. I refuse to live an ‘it might have been life’. There are many students who score low on tests, who have a grand and glorious path that is correct for them. Stop making them feel stupid with these incessant tests. We should encourage and expand their dreams, not squash them. We place huge roadblocks in front of too many students. Those road blocks are dream killers. Stop it!

It is time for parents and teachers to stand up and say,

“No more! Stop this insanity. Bring back the humanity.”

Start giving our students life-fulfilling dreams. It is sad that we test the dreams out of too many students; rather, we should lead them to their dreams. Maybe you can’t force a horse to drink, but you can lead a student to their dreams.

An educator must be like my father. First get to know the students and learn what they need. My father quit high school to enlist in the Army during World War II. He was a common man, but he was the finest educator and modeler I’ve ever known. He took my path’s journey with me. If he would have repeatedly tested me along the way, he would not have helped me.

He showed me how to catch a ground ball, hit a baseball by keeping my eye on the ball and watch it hit the bat, how to shoot a jump shot, how to head a soccer ball. He taught me how to shoot a rifle. I qualified on the Parris Island rifle range the first day of live fire. That evening I was one of the few who did not get beaten severely. That night I thanked God for Dad. He was always there, using the gifts God gave him – showing me how. Stop the insanity. Bring back the humanity.

A teacher’s greatest gifts are God-given. Stop stripping teachers of their gifts.

Get involved at the following web site:


Jesse George Shoemaker

I find this reply to my letter extremely condescending, cold and without feeling for the many children who are traumatized by these standardized tests. It is legalistic and without humanity. No wonder groups such a ‘Opt Out’ have formed and are growing rapidly.

“You can certainly imagine the diversity of students enrolled in the state’s public schools;” – 

(I was a teacher for 8 years for crying out loud. Patronizing? Did they read my letter or simply pour “ignore” all over it? It does not seem as if any attention was paid to this stakeholder.)

“to appropriately measure students’ and teachers’ hard work can be difficult with such a vast spectrum of experiences and backgrounds. Standardized tests help with that very important goal. While no single assessment can ever be fully representative of a student’s capabilities, (What about 3rd grade ELA, 10th grade ELA (English Language Arts) and Algebra 1?) the Florida Legislature has determined that they are an essential part of meeting Florida’s high standards for its students.”

It does not seem that the Florida DOE listens to teacher and parent stakeholders. I think the proof of that is the fact that groups such as ‘Opt Out’ exist.

I hope that parent and teacher voices echo loudly throughout this state and force the Governor, the Legislature and the Florida DOE to listen and bring humanity back to education.

A teacher’s greatest gifts are God-given.

Stop stripping teachers of their gifts.

Bring key decisions back to the classroom.

Stop this insanity. Bring back the humanity.

Parents and teachers stand tall and be heard!


Extra Time Is Not “Extra Sit and Stare Time”


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by Sandy Stenoff

We have now been opting out for years in Florida and schools are increasingly familiar with the concept of opting out. Administrators are growing in awareness of our motivations and hopefully, understand that we are not working against them, but against the system. When parents communicate their wishes respectfully, schools may be more willing to work with them about opting out, within district rules.

Many students with exceptionalities or learning disabilities qualify for Exceptional Student Education (ESE) accommodations in a 504 or an IEP Individual Education Plan (IEP). Those accommodations may include extended time for testing.

In some cases, however –

Parents and teachers have reported that some students opting out have been made to “sit and stare,” or threatened with “sit and stare” for the entire allowable time for testing, even when the student has indicated that they’re finished with their test. And for some students, extended time can last the entire school day.

Here’s a great article on what Extended Sit and Stare looks like for kids taking the test, particularly for kids who opt out:
‘Sit and stare’ — what some kids who opt out of tests are forced to do

“…the policies are vague in an effort to intimidate parents into not opting out. She also said she has heard about at least one case in which children who have been granted double time to take exams because of a diagnosed disability or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder have been told that they will have to sit and stare for the entire extended time they would have used to take the exam.”

That’s abusive and it’s NOT what the rules require.

In a comment on that article from “Jupiter Mom”:

“This isn’t anything new for Florida. Kids already have the “sit and stare” policy – test or no test. It’s awful for 3rd graders to have to sit in their desks with hands clasped and feet quiet while their classmates finish their tests. Kids are not allowed reading material, paper to doodle on or anything. When a student completes their test, they must just sit and stare. Kids are frustrated by this. And for a child who needs more time to complete their test (have this accommodation written on their IEP), it’s tortuous. These kids are not only given more time, the additional time is mandatory. Parents must decide how badly the kid needs more time because they will have to sit in their desks for the full, maximum allowed extra time – no matter when they complete their test. Kids with this accommodation are often ones with attention issues so this is more than abusive. Currently, all kids take the test- they must if they show up for school.  
But this is just one reason why high stakes testing is so destructive. We must end this nonsense that benefits no one except rich dudes in ed testing corporations.”

Jupiter Mom is correct… except for one thing. Although it may be mandatory to allow extended time, it is NOT mandatory to force the student to sit there in front of the test for the entire allowable extended time.  When the student says they are finished, they are finished.

According to the 2018–2019 FSA Accommodations Guide – page 6:

“A student may be provided extended time to complete a test session. Extended time must
be provided in accordance with the student’s IEP or Section 504 Plan. Extended time is
not unlimited time; it should align with the accommodation used regularly in the student’s classroom instruction and assessments. The student is not required to use all of the extended time that is allowed and may end the test session prior to the expiration of the extended time. Each test session must be completed within one school day.”

Therefore, if you notify your child’s school that you will be opting him/her out of testing and they indicate that they must still sit for the entire allowable extended time, because of an IEP or a 504, please share this document with them and let them know that, just as you want your child to be respectful at school, you expect your child to be treated respectfully. They already have this Accommodations Guide and they know what the right thing is to do.

But they may need to know that you know too.  And now you do.

PBT or CBT? How Do I Opt Out?


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by Sandy Stenoff

We’re not going to get into the difference between a paper-based test (PBT) and a computer-based test (CBT) here, except to say that if parents have made the decision to opt out, they should know that opting out of one is different from opting out of the other. You’ll need to know which your child will have so you can help your child to opt out successfully. It’s not complicated, but there is a difference.

This schedule will show if your child will have a PBT or a CBT.

Will my child have a Paper-Based Test or a Computer-Based Test?

To understand the difference in how to opt out of one or the other, it’s simple – GO TO THE OPT OUT GUIDE.  It’s all there!

To see how to opt out of a computer-based test, watch with your kids how Sammy does it… fearlessly! 


When You Refuse The FSA


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by Sandy Stenoff

When you refuse the FSA, you are not just saying that you object to how this test affects your child. You are saying so much more.

Watch this brief video to see what happens When You Refuse The Tests.

And then do the one thing you can do.
Deny the data. Opt Out.

Here’s some more info to help you:
Complete 2019 Opt Out Guide
Opting Out of the Third Grade FSA
Sample Opt Out Letters

Acknowledgement: Michael Elliot – Shoot4Education

Opting Out of the Third Grade FSA

by Sandy Stenoff

So you’ve had enough of the High Stakes High Pressure on your 8-year old and you want to know how to OPT OUT of the Third Grade FSA?


If you’ve just found us, you may be frantic… or furious… about your little one being more stressed than you’ve ever seen her over the FSA… since Day One of this school year. Your child in the third grade is eight, maybe nine years old. They should be enjoying school, learning to love reading, learning to love learning. Has your child been enjoying school? How aware is your young child of the high stakes attached to testing? Is that OK with you? Since you’re reading this… probably not so much.

Take a deep breath and do some reading here. It’s not scary, and it’s not complicated, but there are details that you, as the parent, must pay attention to.

Parents choose to opt out for many different reasons.

There is a 32% failure rate built into the FSA.
More than 3 out of 10 students will fail the FSA
…by design.

If your child opts out of the FSA, she will not receive a failing score. She will receive NO SCORE. This is no worse than failing. THEN, the school (and you) will have to use a state-approved alternative assessment to qualify as a Good Cause Exemption to promote your child to the fourth grade.

Opting out of the Third Grade FSA is one of the two highest risk years for testing and for opting out (tenth grade is the other). There is a 32% failure rate built into the FSA. It is pre-determined that more than 3 out of 10 students will fail the FSA… by design.

Florida is one of the sixteen states with mandatory third grade retention, meaning that if your child takes the FSA and fails, she will be flagged for retention, even with a satisfactory report card, UNTIL she passes one of the state’s approved alternative assessments, which are also listed in THE OPT OUT GUIDE. These are the SAME alternative assessments used for promotion when one has no score, for any reason, including opting out.

Different districts use different assessments for Good Cause Exemptions. Google is your friend. To find yours, look up your district’s current Student Progression Plan.
For example: Pinellas County Schools 2019 Student Progression Plan.

It is YOUR responsibility to work with the school to make sure that there is an alternative assessment in place that your child can/will navigate successfully. Your best bet is to request a portfolio, but be prepared. Many districts have interpreted this to mean the state’s “test portfolio” – which is really 42 mini-FSA tests given throughout the year to demonstrate passing the required standards. Many schools are already doing this as a safety net, in case a student fails. Your child may already have a “test portfolio” started. Ask the teacher for a status.

We don’t like the test portfolio. Haven’t heard of one teacher who’s said they like it either. The test portfolio may actually be more time-consuming than the FSA. And it still gives up your child’s data.

Many teachers say the mini-tests are more difficult for the kids because the tests are sometimes administered before the standards are even taught. And the questions are secret, just like the FSA. They are made up from the state’s test bank, which is why they are secret. Your child’s teacher is NOT ALLOWED to see the portfolio test questions. We are supposed to just trust that the state is testing what they tell the teachers to teach.  How does that work for you? 

Only you can decide if you will stand on principle and fight for a real portfolio over any kind of standardized test as the bar your child must clear for promotion. In case you choose to allow your child to take an alternative assessment,  you should know – teachers have told us that they like the SAT10 or the TerraNova. The IOWA is not the same as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) that we all took in school. It is the newfangled Common Core-aligned IOWA. To find out what assessment your district uses for a Good Cause Exemption, look in your district’s Student Progression Plan.

This article from the 2016 third grade opt out in Sarasota explains what you might expect to hear from your district to pressure you into agreeing to the test portfolio:
Parents, students protest ‘opt out’ repercussions

HOWEVER, parents CAN request an actual portfolio. The FLDOE says so right here on page 6 of this document: Promotion to Grade 4 Technical Assistance Paper (TAP)
Please be sure to read the definition of a teacher-created portfolio further on.Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 12.27.56 AM 2
A portfolio is a collection of work done in school which represents her knowledge and/or mastery of the required standards. Some schools may resist this -because it’s not a test score, and data is currency. You can compile a portfolio yourself. Collect everything she has done all year long. Keep it in date order in a three ring binder.

There are IMPORTANT links in the Toolbox to help you to get a statutorily allowed portfolio – as opposed to the test “portfolio.”

A Real Portfolio (developed by two teachers, who successfully opted their children out of the 3rd grade FSA):
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

Some schools have strongly refused the teacher-created portfolio and some parents have therefore chosen to withdraw their third grader from school at the end of the year – even the last day of school – and register them as a homeschooler. Their portfolio was certified as good for promotion to the 4th grade by a certified teacher. They then successfully re-enrolled the child in school as a fourth grader. If your child has no documented reading deficiency and is on grade level, this strategy may be an option for you.

Yes, these are silly games we are forced to play with the districts. The struggle is real.

If you choose this option, we may be able to help you locate a teacher who can evaluate your child’s portfolio and certify it if your child passes the standards. You can read about one family’s experience with this strategy in the update at the end of this post: Fear and Loathing in a Florida School. 

IMPORTANT – If a child is in a charter school or a magnet school out of your school zone, and is withdrawn, the student may lose her place there. If she is in a regular public school, this is not usually a problem.

To pick up or not to pick up?
You know your child best. Can he sit quietly and not disrupt his classmates who are testing?

It is important to acknowledge that even young children can be taught to be proud to stand up for their beliefs, if we teach them by example and if they understand our decisions.

Talk to them. They get it. They live it every day.

Some children, after opting out for the first time, choose to “sit and stare” as their own silent protest.  We enthusiastically support this action!

The ACT of Opting Out
Please see the Opt Out Guide for opting out of a paper-based test:

Discussing Opt Out with younger kids
If you haven’t discussed opting out of the FSA with your child, start now. They will be doing the opting out in front of their teacher and friends and it will be easier for them to opt out if they understand your decisions for them.

If you don’t know where to start, these may help:
– 8 Yr Old Talks Test Prep
– If I Didn’t Opt Out, I’d Be A Liar

We will never promise you that there are no consequences to opting out. 
We can promise you that if you do nothing… nothing will change.

There is something you can do – DENY THE DATA. OPT OUT.

Opt Out Letters

by Sandy Stenoff

Parents often ask us for an Opt Out letter that they can give to their school.

You are not required to send a letter. However, if there is no letter, some districts will contact the parent to confirm this is a parental decision and not the child’s decision. This is a disruption to the school’s already tight testing protocols. As a matter of courtesy, a letter helps the school to plan, making your opt out smoother, especially if you plan to remove your child from the school campus after they have opted out.

Keep it simple. The first two examples have been kept clear, concise and deliberately simple so as not to invite debate. Citing the law has been deliberately left out of these letters. They will only guarantee that you will receive a letter from your district’s legal department.

Reasons for opting out are varied and personal. These letters are just suggestions that you can edit to suit your own circumstances and beliefs.

Keep in mind:

  • Opting out is an act of civil disobedience.
  • You’re not asking for permission.
  • Sending your letter as a courtesy helps the school to plan better.
  • Schools are not obligated to provide alternative activities for your child opting out.
  • Working with your child’s school politely and respectfully benefits your child.
  • Yes, they have to tell you that you can’t opt out.
  • Yes, we’ve opted out successfully for years.
  • If you receive a bully letter in response, DON’T PANIC.
    Read this: What Does This Bully Letter Really Mean?
  • Don’t be afraid to use the words “opt out.”
  • You can substitute “minimal participation” for “opt out,” but we believe that it detracts from the act of opting out of a test that is being used against our children and schools. We are way past the point of using “soft language” to make the schools “comfortable” with our protest. They have their job to do. We have ours.
  • You can incorporate as much of the paper-based or computer-based refusals from the Opt Out Guide into your letter as you wish.
  • Third Grade is only doing paper-based tests.

To pick up or not to pick up?
You know your child best. Can he sit quietly and not disrupt his classmates who are testing?

It is important to acknowledge that even young children can be taught to be proud to stand up for their beliefs, if we teach them by example and if they understand our decisions.

Talk to them. They get it. They live it every day.

Some children, after opting out for the first time, choose to “sit and stare” as their own silent protest.  We enthusiastically support this action!

Be kind. Everyone is stressed highly now.

It’s just one more reason why we OPT OUT.

1. Staying at school

Dear Principal,

Respectfully, Daniel will opt out of the FSA and has been instructed on how to do this by me. He will not sign the test rules acknowledgement. He will open his test upon instruction. He may read his test if he wishes, close it and slide it away to signal that he is finished participating in this process. If he is prompted to continue, he will politely decline. Prompting more than once may be construed as coercion.  If permitted, he may read quietly for the remainder of the testing time.

For the computer-based test, he will log onto the test. When prompted, he will click: “Yes, start my test.” He will proceed to question 1, and click “End Test.”

Thank you in advance for your cooperation with our efforts to support public education. Should you have any questions, please feel free to call me at ______________.


Proud Public School Parent

2. Picking Up From School

Dear Principal,

Respectfully, Daniel will opt out of the FSA and has been instructed on how to do this by me. He will not sign the test rules acknowledgement. He will open his test upon instruction. He may read his test if he wishes, close it and slide it away to signal that he is finished participating in this process. If he is prompted to continue, he will politely decline. Prompting more than once may be construed as coercion. If permitted, he may read quietly for the remainder of the testing time.

For the computer-based test, he will log onto the test. When prompted, he will click: “Yes, start my test.” He will proceed to question 1, and click “End Test.”

Shortly after he has indicated that he is finished, I will be at school to request him at the front office, sign him out from school and will return him to campus when testing is finished. Please advise me approximately what time testing will begin so that I can plan accordingly. In order to minimize any disruption to other students who are testing, seating Daniel closest to the door will allow him to leave quickly and quietly.

Thank you in advance for your cooperation with our efforts to support public education. Should you have any questions, please feel free to call me at ______________.


Proud Public School Parent

3. If you wish to make a statement…

Dear Principal,

I believe that my child’s teacher is a professional and is better able to assess his skills and abilities than any single standardized test on a given day and that his work with his teacher throughout the year counts for more than a single test score.

No child’s performance on any single test should be responsible for their promotion, their teacher’s job security, their school grade, or by extension, real estate values. The high stakes attached to the FSA drive the unhealthy testing culture in our public schools that is detrimental to students, to teachers and to our public schools and I do not consent to it.  The misuse of test data drive a false narrative that our public schools are failing in order to give credence to the need to be rescued by those who would privatize our public schools and I do not subscribe to that notion.

Therefore, respectfully, Daniel will opt out of the FSA and has been instructed on how to do this by me. He will not sign the test rules acknowledgement. He will open his test upon instruction. He may read his test if he wishes, close it and slide it away to signal that he is finished participating in this process. If he is prompted to continue, he will politely decline. Prompting more than once may be construed as coercion. If permitted, he may read quietly for the remainder of the testing time.

For the computer-based test, he will log onto the test. When prompted, he will click: “Yes, start my test.” He will proceed to question 1, and click “End Test.”

Shortly after he has indicated that he is finished, I will be at school to request him at the front office, sign him out from school and will return him to campus when testing is finished. Please advise me approximately what time testing will begin so that I can plan accordingly. In order to minimize any disruption to other students who are testing, seating Daniel closest to the door will allow him to leave quickly and quietly.

Thank you in advance for your cooperation with our efforts to support public education. Should you have any questions, please feel free to call me at ______________.


Proud Public School Parent

And just so you know… it also can be as simple as this…

Opt Out 2019. Deny The Data. Refuse Your Consent.


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You will be told that there is no opt out. They’re right. There is no provision for opting out in Florida. We do it anyway. And HAVE since 2012.

  • MANY thousands of families have chosen to opt out of Florida’s high stakes standardized testing.
  • Many students DO NOT or HAVE NEVER take the FSA or FCAT and have been or continue to be successfully promoted through graduation, without incident.
  • More students have been harmed by a low FSA score than by having NO FSA score.

When you opt out, you say to your school district and to your state legislature:

I value the professional autonomy, creativity and expertise of my child’s teacher to appropriately assess my child’s learning over what any one test can tell me about what my child needs, on a single day.

If we allow our children to complete these tests, we would be saying, instead, “I consent to what the tests stand for and how they are used.”  Do you consent? 

Testing is the steamroller and data is the fuel. Do the one thing you have the power to do. When you opt out, you deny the data, with which the state reduces your child’s 180 days in school each year to a single test score.

Deny them this data. Tell them with your protest that your child is more than a score.


Click HERE for the current Opt Out Guide.

Additional OPT OUT info and links available at this page:
COMPLETE 2019 Opt Out Guide

Find your own connection to the bigger picture. This IS about your child. But it is not JUST about your child. It is also about our teachers, our schools and our communities. Incessant testing diminishes your child’s love of learning, love of school and turns our teachers into taskmasters. It is mind-numbing drudgery. It is not a measure of learning. It is an attack on learning. It makes kids hate school. It has exacerbated the teacher shortage.

We can stand in defiance for all children, teachers and schools and begin to take them back from those who would destroy public education in order to profit from the forced failures, which have ushered in the privatization of our public schools, in the name of so-called “education reform.”

Any act of civil disobedience may involve risks and potentially unknown consequences. Opting out of standardized tests is no different. We will never guarantee that you will receive no pushback or consequences to your standing up in protest.

We will never promise anything, except this… If you do nothing, nothing will change.

Retention, Remediation or Poor Class Placement: What’s a parent to do?


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by Sandy Stenoff 

PARENTS can grant consent – or withhold it.

Test scores are in. And the letters are going out.

From a parent:

“I am so upset. Please can you help me? My daughter is going into 8th grade and has received Straight A’s in all her advanced classes for 2 years in a row and in 5th grade. She also takes high school courses with A’s. She got a 2 on Reading FSA and now they are telling me she has to take Reading which will remove one of her high school classes in 8th grade. I never want her to take this test again. How do I get her out of Intensive Reading so she can take her high school electives and her Honors Algebra?

I feel that I should have known about opting her out. She came home the first day of the Writing FSA an absolute wreck. I will never put her through this again. After the 3 hours of FSA testing, her classes gave work, reading assignments, projects and more tests. It was an awful week returning from Spring Break and it took a toll on her.

Since test scores were released a few weeks ago, The Opt Out Florida Network has received many such messages from parents from all over the state, some far more egregious.

Remember, you are the parent and the final authority for your child’s education rests with YOU.

FSA scores were released on June 15, 2018 (herehere and here) and many parents are being informed that their child is being denied electives or class placement because he/she received a low FSA score. Some parents are being informed now. Others will learn of this at the beginning of the school year with surprise schedule changes. Students in Honors or AP classes, simultaneously placed in Intensive Reading, sacrificing electives (Art, Orchestra, foreign language or computers, etc.) based on FSA scores. Makes sense to you, right? Nope, me neither…

This is school or district policy, not state law and parents CAN challenge it. Be informed and take action.

The Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) is clear (bold and underlined for emphasis):

“…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.” ( – Page 6) 

There are many more moving parts to this issue of poor class placement. For one thing, IF there is a deficiency, the school is obligated to provide written notice to parents earlier in the school year.  The school cannot simply remediate a child because of a single test score at the end of the year. There are other data that must be considered in that decision. If a child is actually deficient in reading, that deficiency must be identified and addressed. So parents should never just take anyone’s word that a test score says “your child must be remediated.”

There are only two scenarios:
1.  The child DOES NOT have a reading deficiency, just a low test score.
The parent’s input must be considered. If the school recommends remediation, the
parent may decline.
2.  The child DOES have a reading deficiency. The deficiency must be identified and
addressed with parents. There is a specific evaluation process that must happen.
Don’t let them off the hook.

When the school tells you that they have no choice because it’s the law, ask them POLITELY to provide it in writing – the law – the statute – or the district policy.
They will not. IT DOES NOT EXIST.

For those students with no FSA score because they opted out, there is no actual basis for these decisions, but that is no guarantee that districts and schools will not try to remediate these students – whether out of retaliation or because they are misinformed, it’s still wrong. Someone thinks this is what they are supposed to do. Children’s education is suffering because of this misinformation being passed down from school districts to schools. Without FSA scores, schools should rely on report cards and teacher recommendations for proper placement.

It’s summer and you can prepare now by becoming informed. Your child is relying on you to know your stuff. No one else is looking out for them. It’s up to YOU.

Informed parents do not need to be afraid or intimidated. Just persistent.

Here are some tools that have been proven to work – there is no magic here, just official district or state documents. In the Opt Out movement, these are our “power tools.” Use them to provide your child the education to which they are entitled.

Here is a form used in Broward County.

Other districts have similar forms, but in case your district tells you they don’t have one, you can use this language from the Broward form in your own email. I can recall no instances where a parent has challenged class placement based on test scores and has not been successful. You may need to be persistent, but you can do it!

“I understand why the course recommendation was made; however, I still wish to have my child placed in the preferred course(s) listed on this form and am willing to provide the academic and emotional support my child may need while participating in this course.”

Or you can simply state:

“I wish to have my child placed in (desired elective) instead of Intensive Reading. I am willing to provide the academic and emotional support my child may need while participating in this course.
Thank you very much for your concern. Looking forward to a great school year!

Use the information in this post with your child’s school if you need to. Send them the links to the material from the DOE.

Remediation based on FSA scores has not been a state requirement since 2015 and it has been successfully CHALLENGED many times.

Information on House Bill 7069 May 18, 2015 – Slide 11

Information on House Bill 7069 May 18, 2015 – Slide 12

From the Orlando Sentinel on HB7069 (May 8 2015): 

“HB 7069… ended the requirement for automatic “intensive” reading or math classes for students who scored below “satisfactory” on the tests, or less than a 3 on the 5-level exams. The Florida Department of Education in a memo today outlined the change for school superintendents. Schools, the memo said, must still provide help to students who struggle on the exams — and that could mean remedial classes.

But they can “make decisions that are in the best interest of each student regarding course enrollment and instructional support,” wrote Chancellor Hershel Lyons. Educators have long worried that the required remedial classes eliminated electives for many students, robbing them of a chance to take courses of interest or that might set them on a career path.”

You can read the entire article here.
Please read the memo in Resources below.

Even for Third Grade promotion, there are Good Cause Exemptions spelled out clearly in the FLDOE’s Promotion to Grade 4 Technical Assistance Paper (TAP) – to avoid retention and to progress without remediation. For more information on avoiding retention, please click here =>>: Third Grade Opt Out Toolbox.

If a child is to be retained legitimately, much more is required of the school than for the child to simply “do it all over again.” In the rare instance that a student actually needs to be retained, it should be negotiated with the input of the child’s educational team of parents, teacher, guidance counselor and principal, and with parental consent – there are strict guidelines that must be adhered to and parents should be aware of those as well. This information is also contained in the same TAP, under

Within the Florida education statutes, each school district has some flexibility for how to implement the law. Class placements and student progression are ultimately regulated by your school district’s “Student Progression Plan”. This document is the road map to help you navigate district policy for your child throughout the school year.

To be your child’s best advocate, you should familiarize yourself with the information pertinent to your child before school starts back in the fall.

To find yours, you can simply search the internet.
Example: Google “Seminole County student progression plan 2018”
This is what comes up:

For more on challenging class placement: Parents, YOU are the Boss… and you can say NO.

IMPORTANT – Remember to communicate with your school by e-mail. It is a written record, a timeline and documentation of your efforts to remedy the school’s mistake. Save it. It cannot be deleted by the school and they cannot say they didn’t receive your e-mail. If you use the information provided here and the school is still not cooperating with your request to correct class placement, forward your e-mail correspondence to your school board members and your superintendent and ask for help. CC your local education reporter. Not kidding.

One last note – Give the school staff the benefit of the doubt. Most schools are being given incorrect or insufficient information by the districts. Most will never have seen the information you are provided here. Yes, they should know better. Don’t waste your energy “being right.” Provide them the information so that they can do better for your child and move on.

Save your energy. We have bigger fights ahead.

This misuse of test data, especially when students have a clear record of performing well in school, should be a reminder to all parents that a low test score is always more harmful to children than no test score. All of this underscores just how invalid these tests are, giving no credit to teachers and students for a whole year of hard work teaching and learning.

For our public schools to return to common sense, and genuine teaching and learning, parents must stop feeding the testing machine and do the one thing we have the power to do. Deny the data used to harm our children, our teachers and our schools. Opt Out.

Please share this information. Someone you know needs it.



Third Grade Opt Out Toolbox


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The links below contain important resources for opting out of the Third Grade FSA and for working with your child’s school to ensure a Good Cause Exemption for promotion to the Fourth Grade.

Parents can absolutely opt out of the FSA, but Third Grade parents MUST make sure to communicate with the school to ensure that there will be a Good Cause Exemption in place for promotion.

If you have received a retention notice, all of this same information can be used for promotion. It will be up to YOU to push for it and to fight the retention.

Third Grade Opt Out Tools  (Last updated 5/22/18)

This is the guiding document for promotion or fighting retention
FLDOE – Promotion to Grade 4 Technical Assistance Paper (TAP) – 10/27/17

  • EVERY third grade parent should familiarize themselves with this document and work through it with the teacher and school to develop a teacher-created portfolio, NOT the portfolio of FORTY-TWO mini-tests, or test bank questions. This is the most current FLDOE Technical Assistance Paper (TAP) on promotion to 4th grade. It spells out the approved alternative assessments and scores required for a Good Cause Exemption. Please read from beginning to end.
  • If you have received a retention notice, this is the document to guide your actions toward promotion. USE IT. Share it with the school. They’ve probably never seen it. 

One thing missing from this TAP that was on the previous TAP (2014) is the statement
“A parent of a student in grade 3 who is identified anytime during the school year as being at risk of retention may request that the school immediately begin collecting evidence for the portfolio.”

Doesn’t matter. It’s in the Florida Statute. The law says parents can request a real portfolio. AT ANY TIME.
Opting Out Of The Third Grade FSA
Sample Opt Out Letters
Navigating the Threat of Third Grade Retention
Opt Out Third Grade 101
Promoted to 4th Grade Without a Test Score – a teacher’s account of his own child’s opt out and promotion
“Retained? You can go to 4th grade… sort of…maybe.”
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 *
– 10 Strategies to Fight Mandatory Retention by Suzanne Whitney, Research Editor, Wrightslaw
– Special Opt Out group for Third Grade Parents – for help, peer support and strategies to find fair and useful assessment for promotion

* MOST IMPORTANT DOCS (but please read ALL)

Helping younger kids to understand why you choose to opt out
– 8 Yr Old Talks Test Prep
– If I Didn’t Opt Out, I’d Be A Liar

Notable research on the practice of third grade retention:

  1. The Effects Of Mandated Third Grade Retention On Standard Diploma Acquisition And Student Outcomes: A Policy Analysis Of Florida’s A+ Plan by K. Jasper, EdD
  2. Grade Retention – Info for Parents by Jimerson, PhD
  3. Grade Retention – Guide for Parents by Jimerson, PhD
  4. Grade Retention & Promotion- Guide for Educators by Jimerson Renshaw Skokut
  5. Grade Retention – Fact sheet by Jimerson, PhD
  6. Grade Retention’s Negative Effects – Ineffective and possibly harmful
  7. Alternatives to grade retention- Jimerson Pletcher Kerr
  8. 10 Strategies to Fight Mandatory Retention – by Sue Whitney for Wrightslaw
  9. New Research Suggests Repeating Elementary Grades – even Kindergarten – is Harmful


Is This Year’s FSA a Student Survey?


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By Sandy Stenoff

The FSA Writing test is being administered in grades 4-10 across Florida now and it’s not what one could easily mistake for “valid” or “reliable.”

Less than a week into this year’s FSA testing season (March 1 through May 18) and data-mining alarms are blaring. We should pace ourselves.

“My daughter opted out yesterday and told me the prompt was “Should Kids Take Online Classes” – it was an argumentative writing prompt. Just FYI.”
One middle school student revealed that one of the eighth grade writing prompts was on “Changing School Start Times.”  The student said that the sources were 1) “science-based FOR later start times” – like this. 2) anecdotal – “just a parent’s opinion AGAINST later start times because it disrupted her schedule.”

It’s a hot topic with political consequences for every municipality (see here, here, here and here). Communities are divided. Understandably, some parents are conflicted about the start times and work schedules. School boards are balking at the cost of adding bus routes, drivers….

Others are saying at school board meetings,

“Stop! For once, just do what’s right for the kids. Make decisions based on the evidence. For once. Please.”

While we would agree with the actual evidence and arguments supporting later start times for adolescents, that’s not the issue here. If they want to force their high stakes onto our children, they need to do a better job of putting valid test questions together. The questions don’t seem to be balanced. The questions, as presented, steer children toward a particular outcome, complete with reward or punishment for thinking (arguing) one way over another. The thing is, the kids know it and they know how to game the system to produce the desired result – which is how the data-miners can sell their product: students’ data. Rigged much?

We used to be so concerned about product placement in tests, targeting children. Today’s testing companies are more sophisticated, less obvious, and more insidious than ever. They’re drilling deeper, gathering student data to more effectively target our children for profit. Face it, parents. Kids are commodities and schools are the meat market. To add insult to injury, who pays for it? We do! Such a bargain for our reformster ‘friends.’

Of course, with friends like that…

HIGH SCHOOL – The Tenth grade ELA FSA

Two prompts:
1. Gun Control.  One source was supportive – and two sources were opposed, one without solid evidence and one was more of an opinion piece.
2. Inventions that happen by chance – Sources for this one were more balanced.

Considering that Florida is rampant with student activism now, specifically about gun control, this is conspicuous and conveniently timely.

In a recent practice test with writing prompts about the Electoral College, two sources were opposed with “data-based sources”, while the one supporting the Electoral College was not well sourced.

It essentially forced students to write an essay, where the favored position was in opposition to the Electoral College – for a better test score. One student tried to write his essay FOR the Electoral College but became “super frustrated.” He stopped his essay and refocused it to write about how poor the sources were and why. We think he did the right thing.

It was also reported to us that the “electoral college” prompt was an actual prompt for this week’s test. Therefore, some students had a prompt that they may have had time to think about!

The FSA is created for the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) by the American Institutes for Research (AIR). Parent and education activist, Deb Herbage has researched and written a great deal about AIR and the evolution of their relationship with the FLDOE. You can read more in her guest post for national education blogger, Mercedes Schneider:

Guest Post: Deb Herbage on American Institutes for Research (AIR)

So exactly WHO is writing the FSA questions?
What have you asked your kids about the FSA this week, and what have they told you?

We’d really like to know.

Teachers can’t tell us. They’re not allowed to know.

Is it possible that the tests are just poorly written? Sure. Anything is possible.

But so far, just one week into testing, Florida’s 2018 FSA duck is quacking like a student survey.


As long as the State of Florida continues to tie high stakes consequences to these poorly written tests, parents should know that they don’t have to buy whatever it is they’re selling – certainly not that these tests will improve education.

One of the most important things for parents to know is that they don’t have to offer up their children’s data to feed the high stakes testing machine and Florida’s false accountability that, every single day, diminishes and labels our students, teachers and schools.

Demand more. Opt out.

Here’s how: The Complete 2018 OPT OUT GUIDE