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.)

RESOURCES
– 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

My Child Failed The FSA. Now what?

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by Sandy Stenoff

Teachers’ comment after release of 3rd Grade FSA scores

PARENTS, if your child failed the FSA and you’ve just found the Opt Out network and haven’t read anything about this until now… it will be up to YOU to fight retention.  You can.

Get out your highlighter… You have some reading to do. 

This is the guiding document from the Florida Department of Education for promotion or for fighting retention:

Link: 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 Good Cause Exemption. 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. 
  • If you have received a retention notice, this is the document to guide your actions toward promotion. USE IT. Print it out and share it with the school. They’ve probably never seen it.
  • Please read it from beginning to end.
  • PRINT THIS DOCUMENT AND TAKE IT TO YOUR MEETING AT SCHOOL. Use it in discussing anything to do with third grade right now.
  • Also find your current district Student Progression Plan.
    It’s on the internet. The whole progression plan could be more than 100 pages, so locate and print just the section on Third Grade promotion, retention and Good Cause Exemptions. Take this to your meeting as well. 
  • These documents should be required reading for every third grade teacher and elementary school principal. It’s unacceptable if they don’t know. Parents should not have to provide this info to schools. But if they do, it’s here.

READ THIS: Opting Out Of The Third Grade FSA
Shareable link: http://bit.ly/3rdGradeOptOut

AND THIS: Third Grade Opt Out Toolbox
Shareable link: http://bit.ly/Gr3OptOutToolbox

Read the various sections on Portfolio and “Navigating the Threat of Retention.” There’s a LOT of information and you may be overwhelmed, especially if you’ve just found us. Read it all.

No school has an incentive to retain a child, especially one who is not deficient. Most kids will get through this with a Good Cause Exemption. You’re getting mandatory notifications from school now. They are covering their butts. AND YOUR KID’S. SO WORK WITH THEM. NICELY.

That said, YOU have options:

Send an email today to your principal:

“In response to this notice about possible retention, I am requesting a copy of (Name)’s complete academic record, to include all assessments done with results for this school year.

Does (name) have a documented reading deficiency and if so, what is the specific basis for that determination? Because of the timeframe, please provide the copies on Tuesday, so that I can review them before the last day of school, Wednesday.

Thank you in advance for your kind assistance.
Sincerely,…..

To compile a portfolio, collect all of your child’s work from the school year and organize it by date order in a 3-ring binder, separated by subject – Math, Language Arts, Science and Social Studies. Science and Social Studies can be used to cover the non-fiction reading requirements.

IF you have enough of your child’s classwork to show that he passed the required standards, you may be able to compile a portfolio that can be certified by a teacher or principal as meeting the required standards for promotion to 4th grade.

The requirements are specific:
Third Grade Portfolio Instructions 
Third Grade Portfolio Checklist  – Working Document (updated 8/22/18)
Promoted to 4th Grade Without a Test Score – a teacher’s account of his own child’s opt out and promotion.

If the school or the district refuse to assess your child’s portfolio, you can withdraw your child from school, register him as a home school student, get his student portfolio of classwork certified as passing by a certified teacher and re-enroll in 4th grade. If not… keep reading. 

(NOTE: if your child is in a charter school or a magnet outside of your school zone, your child could lose their place if you withdraw him/her.)

You also COULD try to push the district to promote based on the report card – which the Florida Statute allows …


But THAT would require you suing the district to comply. Can you say “attorney fees”?

State-approved list of alternative assessments. Student must pass just one assessment to earn a Good Cause Exemption for promotion to the 4th grade.

From the list above, some districts allow the use of any of the assessments listed. Other districts limit which assessments may be used. This should be listed on the district’s current Student Progression Plan (SPP), searchable on the internet.

Most teachers like the SAT10, because it accurately represents the standards taught and does not include trick questions and test distractors. It’s a good, fair assessment with shorter reading passages, more age-appropriate vocabulary and most kids do well on it.

IF you request the SAT10 and your district won’t administer it, you can ask HOW they would accept it from an outside testing company. Hernando County accepts SAT10 results from an outside testing company. Here is a letter that you can share with your school:

Hernando County Schools letter about SAT10

If a student needs some time to prepare for the SAT10, parents can order the workbook online, or they can help their child online.
You can check out the SAT10 here: www.setontesting.com

Some helpful information from teachers:

SUMMER SCHOOL
Some schools are telling parents that they can only administer the SAT10 AFTER summer school. The State does not require summer school before the SAT10 may be administered. So if parents want the SAT10, they will have to ask the school or district to show where it is written that they must complete summer school first.


There are some students, who would benefit from summer school before going on to 4th grade. Some programs are terrific, with low student:teacher ratios and fun built in. Hopefully they’ll even get to read some real books!

There are kids who would be better off going to 4th grade and getting the appropriate support then. 

There are also kids who can read just fine and just need to pass a test to satisfy the system.

But seriously. They don’t call it summer SCHOOL for nothing. It’s still MORE SCHOOL, with the specific purpose of getting them ready to pass yet one more test. If their reading skills improve as well, we’ll call that a freebie.

PROVISIONAL PROMOTION TO 4TH GRADE
Please read:
Retained? You can go to 4th grade… sort of…maybe.

Parents need to do what is best for their child, but they need to be fully informed in order to know what they can and cannot ask for.

If the school isn’t going to help them to be informed, then for the sake of their child, they will need to do it for themselves.


 

Opt Out Gets NR2, Not a Test Score

by Sandy Stenoff

When a student opts out of the FSA, they do not get a test score. At all.

If they answer 1-5 questions, they get a “score code” of NR2. It is not a numerical score like the score a student gets for taking the test. The FLDOE says that NR2 means that a student “did not meet attempted ness criteria.”

It says it right here in the FLDOE’s 2019 Understanding FSA Reports – see page 5.

So when you hear from school that opting out will result in a 1 or a 0, tell them:

“No, it doesn’t. The FLDOE (Florida Dept. of Education) even says so.”

This highlighted excerpt is from a parent’s email with the FLDOE explaining NR2 and that it does not get calculated into the school’s grade. Since there is no number value to calculate a school grade, there is none to evaluate a teacher either. 

Here is a link to the complete email thread.

To confirm that there is no actual score, failing or otherwise, let’s take a look at my own child’s actual 6th grade FSA transcript. 



Notice anything? 

Yeah. Me neither. No scores. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nada. 

Take a look at the categories. If assessments are supposed to provide teachers with information about where my child needs help in the class, the FSA isn’t going to do that. How would any of this information help my child’s teacher to teach her better? 

You can remind your child’s teacher and school that this is just one more reason why parents NEED to opt out of a test that doesn’t help either students OR teachers, and in fact harms both students AND teachers.

It is no kid’s job to protect the adults or the institution to which they are entrusted daily for their own education.

We just want our classrooms back. 


 

 

How To Opt Out Of Computer-Based FSA

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by Sandy Stenoff

If parents make the decision to opt out of the FSA, they need to make sure their child knows HOW TO OPT OUT.

It is very important that parents not rely on schools to convey any opt out information to their students. The schools cannot and will not do that. IT IS UP TO THE PARENT.. 

MANY teachers are on our side, but we received this teacher’s plea today:

“One of my colleagues – a 20 year veteran teacher – is having a near meltdown today, sick with worry over the FSA test on Monday. She will be administering a Computer based (CB) FSA Math test on Monday and one of the students in her test group is opting out. There have been no issues at all so far with the student because the tests have been paper-based. The parent notified the school and everything has gone well so far.

So why the panic? Because the student told the teacher that he doesn’t know how to opt out with the CB (computer-based) test. 

 

=>>As teachers, we can philosophically support Opt Out, but after that our hands are tied. We cannot tell the student the steps to take to opt out. We will not challenge the student. We will not embarrass the student, but we also cannot tell the student the procedure to opt out. 

=>>Somehow, once again, we need to make parents understand that they need to tell their child how to opt out. The teacher is not the enemy here. But the teacher cannot say to the child “login, go to question 1 to start the test, then press end test and close your laptop”. (See what the teacher did there? 😉 )

My friend is fearful that to do that places her job on the line – and not to do that will harm the child and anger the parent.

It’s unfair to children to be sent to school to opt out without making sure they’re prepared to do so and to rely on teachers to stop everything to fulfill parental civil disobedience.

Here’s how YOU can help your child through the process. BEFORE THE TEST.

Watch this 4th grader, Sammy show students how to opt out of Computer Based Test (CBT)
Link: http://bit.ly/OptOutCBT

We have also made available all the information you need to opt out of computer-based tests AND paper-based tests in multiple locations on multiple platforms:

The Opt Out Guide
Opt Out Pocket Guide – Easy, SHAREABLE How To and Fact Sheet
Opt Out Toolbox
Third Grade Opt Out Toolbox

On Facebook:
Opt Out Orlando – main discussion for opting out in Florida
Main public community Facebook page The Opt Out Florida Network

Main website: The Opt Out Florida Network

Teacher: “Please send note to school if you’re opting out”

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by Sandy Stenoff

Testing begins again tomorrow and will last through the month of May. 

Schools and staff are mandated by Florida law to administer the FSA. They are not obligated to accommodate parental wishes to opt out, even when they agree with our reasons for doing so. Proctors, teachers, and staff may not facilitate your decision to opt out. If your child decides, for whatever reason, to take the FSA against your wishes (it happens), that is between you and your child. The school cannot intervene to make sure your child opts out, under any condition.

This was shared with us by a teacher. Parents should pay attention.

“I want to share what our school’s testing coordinator told us about Opt Out.
Verbatim. In writing. From the district.

“Opt Out – all letters must go in your bin. These kids may or may not sign the testing agreement – that is okay. DO NOT FORCE them to sign it.

a. Paper Based Opt Out – they will break the seal on the test and put their heads down/slide the test away.

b. Computer Based Opt Out – they will login and once the test is released they will end the test and possibly close their laptops. That is okay.

c. NO letter, but kid said Momma told them not to test?
CALL ME because I MUST VERIFY.”

Notifying the school or teacher well ahead of time is very important. I can assure you that an email sent to me the morning of the test might not be read in time. We are prepping our rooms, filling out forms, etc. Plan ahead. 

Unfortunately, we can’t just take your child’s word that they are opting out. This has been a problem with secondary students. Mom didn’t agree – and the teacher, who wanted to be kind and supportive of the student, got in trouble.

These are the testing rules read to students

Remember that your child must first sit through the required script to actually get to the test. That process including passing out packets and verifying information on the label can last 20 – 25 minutes or so. The script might sound “mean” to younger children because they aren’t used to their teacher talking like that! It might help if you prepare them for what can sound like a firm lecture. 

In particular, computer based tests can add extra time, if there are technical issues. Your student has to get to the test release point before they can start and immediately end their test session. They have to login. This is one reason why it is sometimes difficult to get a precise start time from the office.

Not all schools and test coordinators are the same, so my comments may not be universal. It’s one school in one county. Parents should not read this and think that it has to apply to their school in the same way. It may or may not. The advice from our testing coordinator was how our school chose to handle Opt Out.

(We teachers are actually pushing for an Opt Out room where those students are placed into the same testing group.)

One of my main points was that if you are just now deciding to opt out for tomorrow and you haven’t yet notified the school, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t go well.

Please consider that most students are not opting out and it is disruptive and discourteous for your child to break the rules (like pulling out a book or a cellphone). (And in extreme cases could invalidate some other child’s test.) I wish there were an easier process. 

Elections have consequences.”

We appreciate this teacher for sharing her perspective and this helpful information.

A very important point here is that parents MUST communicate to their children, as appropriately as possible, WHY it is that they have decided to opt out of the FSA. Make your reasons clear to your child, so that they will be able to opt out with confidence, knowing that you are their advocate and will be there to back them up.  They are, after all, the ones doing the opting out. If you are having a hard time starting the conversation, this article may help, especially with younger children: If I Didn’t Opt Out, I’d Be A Liar

In years past, there were times when we had to suggest that parents not give the schools too much advance notice because some schools had been bullying parents and students over the issue of opting out. Today, most schools are aware of opting out and this year in particular, we have seen districts be far more open and cooperative than they have been. For the sake of the kids, parents should work with their schools for the most peaceful opt out possible.

We urge parents to send in their opt out letters as a courtesy, so that schools can plan accordingly. It’s Opt Out Eve again, so if you’re just sending in your letters, a brief email is a good idea.
Link: Sample letters
Subject: Opting Out May 1

At the very least, send in a BRIEF signed note with your phone number, so the school can verify that opting out is YOUR decision, not your child’s.



If your child is urged more than once to take the test, he can simply give the note to the proctor and the school will call you.

If your child’s tests don’t start for a few days, you may have time to schedule a brief meeting. A polite, face-to-face conversation like this between parent and teacher or Admin might go a long way toward ensuring that your child will achieve the smoothest opt out possible:

“Mrs. Crabtree, I realize that you have a job to do – to administer the FSA to all students. I’m asking that you please keep in mind that I also have a job to do – to make the decisions that I believe are in the best interests of my child’s education. How can we work together to make this happen smoothly, with as little disruption as possible?”

If you’re comfortable, share your reasons with them. You may be surprised to learn that they feel very similarly about these high stakes tests.

Remember this. Our schools are not our enemy. Neither are we theirs. Parents, teachers and schools have to work together cooperatively and respectfully if we want to achieve true assessment reform. And that will happen when enough parents opt out and shut down the data highway to Tallahassee.

Remember why you’re opting out.

In case you need a few reminders…



RESOURCES
Complete 2019 Opt Out Guide
2019 Opt Out Pocket Guide – Opt Out Fact Sheet and How To
Sample Opt Out letters
Opt Out Toolbox
Third Grade Opt Out Toolbox
FLORIDA STATEWIDE ASSESSMENT PROGRAM 2018–2019 SCHEDULE
Your school’s testing calendar should be available on your school’s website.





2019 OPT OUT Pocket Guide

Direct link to our printable, totable, very shareable 2019 Opt Out Pocket Guide

Every year we say that testing is more out of control than ever. And every year, that has been true.

Something has changed this year. We are still seeing many more people than usual knocking on the doors of our local opt out groups. But THIS YEAR, we are seeing so many parents of second graders joining groups to learn how to prepare to opt out of the 3rd grade FSA… next year!

We are inspired and hopeful. Because the more parents who opt out, the more leverage we will have to stop the incessant and unreasonable testing that has eclipsed meaningful assessments and purposeful, joyful learning in OUR classrooms, OUR schools.

If you feel like you’re the only one in your school opting out, chances are that you’re just “the only one you know about” and there are others, if not many others, just like you in your very school. When you opt out, twenty students probably told their parents that your child didn’t take the test. That’s a great start!

You can help spread the word by making copies and sharing with everyone you can.

EVERYWHERE there are kids and parents – you can hand these out!

Make 10 copies and share them – at the playground, little league, soccer practice, karate, the beauty salon, Starbucks, after-school tutoring, PTA meetings… school board meetings, with the principal and teachers, to name a few. If you share them all, print more!

We can do this. One mind at a time.

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
863-604-0243, jgshoe@verizon.net

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: https://theoptoutfloridanetwork.wordpress.com/

Sincerely,

Jesse George Shoemaker

Rebuttal
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 the 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