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.

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



2018 Opt Out Guide


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#OptOut2018 is here.

Testing begins on March 1 and it is more important than ever to deny the data which fuel the attacks on public schools. Be informed. Be involved. Take action. And spread the word. 

The past year has brought some of the most punitive mandates (HB 7069 – 2017) from the state of Florida, with increasingly blatant attacks on public education. This legislative session is well under way and the actions of Florida’s legislators (HB 7055) promise to further hack away at the ability of our public schools to provide the high quality education to our children, to which they are entitled by Florida law.

It is EACH parent’s duty to investigate and to weigh the harm being done to their child’s education by high stakes testing, computerized and dehumanized curriculum, and to understand that it is THEIR choice, whether or not to allow their child to test, and that doing so provides the data with which to rank, sort and label their children and teachers, harming public education for all.

This is the current Opt Out Guide for Florida for this year.

Click here: Complete Opt Out Guide

The information for opting out has not changed significantly from last year to this year. In order to ascertain that you have the most current information, the date of the last update will be indicated at the bottom of this post.

Steps to Opt Out

Refusing a Paper Based Test
Refusing a Computer Based Test
What do we know about NR2 and NT codes?
Emails from FLDOE RE: NR2/NT scores

Alternative Assessment
Third Grade Resources
Test Questions Every Parent Needs To Ask
State of Florida Testing Calendar

It’s hard to believe, but there are still parents out there who don’t know that they can opt out of the tests.  Find your local group, connect with your opt out community and let’s keep growing this movement.

Knowledge is power. The more parents are informed, the more powerful we ALL can be! If you find this information helpful, remember that it is most POWERFUL when it’s shared!

If you are new to this movement, rest assured that you are not alone. Find and join your local opt out group (link below) for information and support, read up and ask questions. Talk to your children’s teachers and talk to other parents. Most of all, TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN – no matter how old or how young they may be – LISTEN to them.

Please FOLLOW and keep checking back on this site for more info to help your kids to opt out successfully and to keep you going strong. There is a LOT of information in the links below. Please take the time to read through. You will find many answers to your questions within.

Thank you for joining us in this fight for kids and our public schools.

IMPORTANT RESOURCES to keep you informed. SHARE.
* Complete Opt Out Guide:
* Opt Out Third Grade 101:
* Navigating Gr 3 Retention Threat:
* Sample Letter to Request a 3rd Grade Portfolio:
* FLDOE Technical Assistance Paper Third-Grade Student Progression (Pages 5-7)
* VIDEO How To Opt Out of Computer Test:
* What Does This Bully Letter Really Mean?:
* Special Opt Out group for Third Grade here:
* Find your local Opt Out group:
* 8 Yr Old Talks Test Prep:

With state testing season beginning this week, FairTest is pleased to offer freshly updated, free fact sheets about opting out.  Please circulate widely!

Much of the push back that you may face from your school, administrator or school district can be challenged by these detailed Fact Sheets from FairTest:
– Federal Law and Regulations on Opting Out Under ESSA (Updated February 2018)
Why You Can Boycott Standardized Tests Without Fear of Federal Penalties to Your School (Updated February 2018)

Remember… if this was easy, it wouldn’t be called a struggle.

Updated Feb 27, 2018

Opt Out Has Never Been a Single Issue Movement

By Cindy Hamilton and Sandy Stenoff

For the past five years The Opt Out Florida Network (which began as Opt Out Orlando)  has posted on many topics that we felt impacted our public schools.

More than anything, we have advocated for authentic, actual teaching and learning in public schools. At the most basic level, that cannot happen if children and teachers do not feel safe, and in some case, are not safe.

We have been fiercely critical of legislation and policies that threaten our public schools, teachers and students. As reformers have adjusted their strategy to public education activists’ pushback against their harmful “reforms,” we activists have had to adjust our strategy as well. We have created and supported actions, along with our many partners, and we work very hard to be certain that our research and shared content is factual, accurate and verifiable.

Some of the policies or issues that we have either supported or opposed, but have always discussed, include NCLB, Race To The Top, Arne Duncan, John King, Betsy DeVos, Jeb Bush, FLDOE, Foundation for Florida’s Future, Bill Gates, Walton Foundation, Koch brothers, ALEC, ESSA, education reform, teachers unions, third grade mandatory retention, high stakes attached to testing, testing culture, false accountability, alternative testing, funding inequity, racial inequity, defunding, defunding via mandates, VAM, Common Core State Standards, age appropriate curriculum, recess, data-mining, digital curriculum, CBE, class placement, SEL assessment, the monetizing of education via testing, privatization thru forced public school failures, charters, vouchers, the school to prison pipeline, zero tolerance discipline policies, the re-segregation of schools, opting out of tests – and the murder of children in our public schools.

Every one of these topics has appeared on our pages and in our group discussions. Every one of them impacts our students in public schools. We will continue to celebrate and support the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and across the country, as they lead the way by framing their own movement to secure their schools as a safe place of learning (Never Again MSD on Facebook and Twitter).

“On social media, and on live television, the victims of the Parkland shooting were not playing their parts. They were not asking for privacy in their time of grief. They did not think it was “too soon” to bring up the issue of gun control.”  – Emily Witt, The New Yorker (2/17/2018)

We stand with the courageous, angry and grieving students and hope that they will continue to “not play their part” as they advocate for real change and say to the powers that be,

The Opt Out Florida Network is a team of dedicated volunteers, spread out across the state of Florida and many of us do this work together every day at great cost to our families. We are so very proud of the dedication and support we receive from each other in this work.

Opting out of state-mandated testing has always been just one action to take in advocating for public schools. Parents can and should take many different actions to effect real change at the classroom, school, district and state levels. And that is what it will take for us to return public school classrooms to safe spaces of real teaching and learning – MANY different actions.

The Opt Out Florida Network supports all parents in being fully informed about all aspects of their child’s education and in their rights as parents to choose how best to advocate for their children in public schools.

As we look ahead and move forward, we will be taking a hard look at new ways to disrupt data collection as well as ways to protect our public schools from privatization. We know that our priorities may sometimes differ.

While we are respectful of the right of each to differing opinions, we will not waver in our resolve to defend our public schools. We realize that some won’t agree with our point of view. That’s okay! There are many other places to get opt out information.

To learn more about why The Opt OutFlorida Network was founded, how we advocate for public education and what we stand for, please read:

Surge in 2017 Test Reform Victories… What’s behind it?


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By Sandy Stenoff

Don’t let anyone tell you that organized resistance to high stakes testing isn’t making a difference. It IS. But we still have a lot more work to do.

Activists and informed citizens must keep engaging parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, school boards and legislators. Here is some good information to share with them.

  • States with high school exit exams dropped from 25 to 13 since 2012 (Florida still does).
  • Various states cut tests for Kindergarten and high school. Districts across the nation, including locales with many students of color and low-income families, ended their tests.
  • Seven states halted the use of student scores to judge teachers.
  • Ten states now allow parents to opt their children out of some or all exams* (see note below)
  • Increasing implementation of performance assessments by states and districts. New Hampshire’s pioneering program now involves half the state’s districts.

The report focuses on case studies of Maryland and seven districts that eliminated or sharply reduced the amount of testing, and of states that ended graduation tests. The studies describe how the victories were won, such as through clear organizing strategies, alliance building, using surveys, developing clear messages that focuses on benefits to students, and winning school board elections.

These cases will be of use to union, parent, student and other activists seeking to end the overuse and misuse of tests and implement teacher-developed, student-focused performance assessments. The report also includes links to a usable, online survey developed by FairTest and allies.

Note: The Opt Out Florida Network doesn’t necessarily see this as a *good* thing for this movement. “Opt out” is a protest. We don’t ask for permission. Click here to learn more. 

As of Nov 13, 2017, the list of test-optional colleges and universities is now just shy of 1,000. See FairTest’s press release here. 

“The past three years – since the redesigned SAT was announced – have seen the fastest growth ever of schools dropping ACT/SAT mandates,” explained FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer. More than 80 colleges and universities reduced standardized exam requirements in that period. That’s a pace of one every two weeks.

Kindergarteners To Work “Second Shift”


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By Sandy Stenoff

Education expert, Alfie Kohn has written extensively about the lack of any real educational value in homework, especially for young children.

In this brief video, he refers to homework, after a full day of school, as the Second Shift. After a full day of Kindergarten, homework for 5-year-olds IS just like working a second shift. Why can’t they just be 5 years old?

Last night, in the Opt Out Seminole group on Facebook, parent Brandi Kitchens shared this letter sent home with her Kindergartener yesterday. For whatever reason, the school is unable to get in the 90 minutes/week of i-Ready during school and demanding, not demanding that parents see to it at home, complete with bribes galore to enforce compliance. Many parents were appalled. It was a robust discussion. While there were a few parents who stated that their child likes i-Ready, outraged is not too strong a word for what others expressed.

Seminole County is not alone in this poor educational practice. i-Ready is excessively required in Orange County, Palm Beach County (here, here and here) , Miami-Dade County and many others – to the same degree. Parents in the Opt Out groups have been discussing i-Ready homework for months. And they’ve had enough.

Dr. Denisha Jones, Early Education expert from Defending the Early Years chimed in:

“Apalled. I don’t care if the child likes it or not. Some kids might like licking cement but we don’t let them do it. No kindergarten child should have homework, but if you must, one worksheet or a story to read should be the max. I think it will take parents drawing the line on the amount of time spent on homework at all grade levels and opting out of anything in excess of that time for schools to think about ending this obscene policy.”

What would YOU think if you received this letter from your child’s school?

Letter to Kindergarten Parents from a Seminole County elementary school

Brandi and Jonathan Kitchens sent this letter to SCPS Superintendent, Dr. Walt Griffin:

Dear Dr. Griffin,

When my husband and I decided to move to Florida this summer, we chose to move to Seminole County because of its solid reputation for doing what is best for children in education.

Yesterday, my child brought home a letter from school informing me that SCPS is now requiring Kindergarteners to complete 90 minutes per week of Math and Reading on i-Ready. At home. The letter says that children who do not do i-Ready at home will not be punished. However they will also not partake of the rewards shared with those who put in their i-Ready hours. They will be excluded from multiple trips to Treasure Box and Fish Awards, which will be used in larger weekly prizes. Therefore, punished without calling it punishment.

This is unacceptable.

These children are FIVE YEARS OLD. They’ve already put in their seven hours of hard work at the office. Seven hours of being good. Seven hours of being told what to do, say and think, of “minding their manners” with other five-year olds, of sitting still and “keeping your hands to yourself,” of lessons and lining up for lunch and learning to color inside the lines.

This is to advise you that my child will not be completing i-Ready at home. We will not subject him to “overtime” at home. When he gets home, he needs to tell me about his day. He needs to play and climb trees. He does not need to do MORE work. He does not need the screen time. He needs to just be five years old.

What is striking to me in the letter is that there is no mention of how i-Ready will benefit my child, only how important it is to get in his “minutes” and we will do everything possible to get in those precious minutes.” There is NO research demonstrating that 90 minutes of weekly i-Ready will improve any student’s learning. In a school year, that’s 54 hours of assessments. Just for i-Ready. Unacceptable.

Furthermore, not all families are “plugged in” making this is an unfair demand. But if i-Ready is online and the school has the ability to track student time in the program, why would parents need to sign off “yes” or “no” on the calendar?

Parents get homework too!

This strikes me as further distancing my child from others in the class due to our inability or (disinterest) in the program. The entire “reward system” seems unfair, and inappropriate in a class full of Kindergarteners.

My understanding is that i-Ready is being used to evaluate teachers. It is not any child’s job to sacrifice valuable time with his teacher for his teacher’s evaluation.

I am told by an elementary school teacher of more than twenty years with a Masters degree in Developmental Psychology that there is a “standard of care” that academia and early childhood experts have concluded is best for children. And that would be NO HOMEWORK IN KINDERGARTEN. The people who know what’s best for children have determined homework is not one of those things.

We do believe that running and playing outside for the hour of daylight after we get home from work is more valuable for all aspects of his growth and development than any amount of i-Ready, especially after a full day of school. We believe that helping to set the table will teach him more practical math; and reading together as a family at bedtime will help instill a love of reading far more than i-Ready ever could. Family first.

There is ample research against using extrinsic motivation in school. Therefore, I hope that special treats will be shared with the entire class – just as treats, not incentives. Has it even occurred to anyone in the district to question the wisdom of i-Ready if the schools must “incentivize” participation to the extent that it does in order to get the compliance it seeks?

Because we strongly disagree with i-Ready for homework, and with the use of the school’s “rewards game” to coerce five-year-olds into compliance, it is our family’s decision that he not participate. I am prepared to discuss with my five-year-old, the fact that life can sometimes be unfair, and that as his Mom and Dad, WE have to decide what is best for him. He will understand that if he is excluded from “treats or special rewards” at school, he is not being punished by his teacher – he is being punished by his school district’s questionable demands.

Please restore our trust in this district and put a stop to requiring i-Ready as homework for our youngest students. Please stop demanding that schools and teachers push for the “minutes.” It is an unnecessary stress for families.

Thank you for your cooperation.


Brandi and Jonathan Kitchens

This is not the norm in every district – most, but not all. In Marion County, Supt. Heidi Maier has all but banned homework for elementary grades. It’s true! A Florida school district banned homework.

From the Washington Post (July 17, 2017)
“Why this superintendent is banning homework — and asking kids to read instead”

“Heidi Maier, the new superintendent of the 42,000-student Marion County public school district in Florida, said in an interview that she made the decision based on solid research about what works best in improving academic achievement in students. They are being asked to do one thing to help them academically: Read for 20 minutes a night.”

Let me repeat – in bold, AND underlined:

“..she made the decision based on solid research about what works best in improving academic achievement in students. They are being asked to do one thing to help them academically: Read for 20 minutes a night.

This IS possible in your district too. But not unless YOU demand it.

Otherwise, this may be the alternative for your child…

1frequenthomeworkprogramCOLCP 6


CBE (Competency Based Education) or personalized learning
Digital Curriculum: Questions Parents Should be Asking
We change the world by showing up. I went to Seattle and got a video on Ed Reform 2.0

Early Childhood
Defending the Early Years
National Association for the Education of Young Children
10 NAEYC Standards

Are all parents aware of i-Ready in our public schools? – PB Post Letters
i-Ready or not? $5.6M software targets reading, math – PB Post
Comparing PBC school day hours, use of iReady, planning time, more – PB Post

The case against homework
The Case Against Homework- Alfie Kohn
The Homework Myth – Alfie Kohn (Book)
FOR TEACHERS – The Homework Debate: The Case Against Homework
– Concordia University (Updated Nov 17, 2017)
No, my kindergartner won’t be doing that homework assignment – WaPo
Rethinking Homework – Alfie Kohn


Student’s Thoughtful Letter To Gov. Scott: Please #Veto7069


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A high school student has now added his voice to the growing chorus opposing HB7069. Jonathan Suarez is a Junior at the School for Advanced Studies in Miami-Dade County, Florida. He wrote his own letter to Governor Scott urging him to veto HB 7069.

His letter was published in full in the Washington Post today:

“The part of this bill that causes the most insecurity to me, as a student and so many others is how little time was allowed  to properly debate and discuss this massive 278-page bill, a fact that caused Senator David Simmons – a Republican who favors most of the provisions in this bill – to vote against the bill. The process and little time given for the public and other senators to properly read the bill compromises the integrity of our own political process. Democracy requires adequate debate and anything less is just plain wrong.

Please do not allow the Florida legislature to deprive our already underfunded public schools of needed funding. Public schools serve 75% of all students in Florida and provides millions of poor Floridians their only chance at success. Handing over public funds to private corporations, that have not proved they are better at educating children will destroy not only public schools, but school communities. Florida has already documented tens of millions of dollars lost to charter school mismanagement and fraud, with no way to recover those losses. That’s a loss to my education and to the education of every public school student.”

Since May 8, when HB7069 narrowly passed in the Florida Senate, just about every public education stakeholder has voiced serious concerns, calling on Governor Rick Scott to veto the bill. While the outcry from educators and grassroots parents has been authentic and loud, some proponents of the bill are being paid to promote it, while others stand to profit. Those opposed include the Florida Association of District Schools Superintendents, Florida School Boards Association, individual school districts, Florida Education Association, the League of Women Voters of Florida, Florida PTA and numerous other parent advocates across Florida.  Today, the First Amendment Foundation joined the opposition, for the bill’s utter lack of transparency and for skirting the legislative process.

As of today, even though the state’s main budget has been submitted to the Governor, House Speaker Corcoran and Senate Majority Leader Joe Negron have still not submitted HB7069. Once the Governor receives it, he will have 15 days to veto it. If he does nothing, it automatically becomes the law, even without his signature. So what’s the hold up? Here’s today’s update on the GOP’s delay tactics

A list of the worst of this bill can be found here.

We urge you strongly to send your own appeal to Rick Scott urging him to veto HB 7069.

Office of Governor Rick Scott
State of Florida
The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001
Call: (850) 488-7146
E-mail the Governor

From student, Jonathan Suarez:

“When I read the bill I was shocked at how bad it actually was. I discussed it with teachers in my school and they agreed. I’m aware of the impact this will have on millions of children and those who need the most help in our society. I figured maybe I can’t do much, but I can add a student voice to help balance the voices of those who would support this bad bill.  Hopefully, the Governor will hear us.”

Jonathan’s complete letter:


Dear Governor Scott,

As a student at the School for Advanced Studies in Miami-Dade Public Schools, I took notice of the education bill passed in the Florida legislature this week: HB7069. I read the bill and discussed its effect on the future of millions of children’s education with teachers and my community.  All my teachers have voiced their fears and concerns about the bill.

My public school’s merit and accomplishments are in no small way a result of the great teachers who help shape our minds every day. Yet, many of these passionate individuals barely make a living wage and any raises are minimal. There is a severe teacher shortage in Florida and HB7069 fails to address this dire public concern. The bill expands the “Best and Brightest” bonus program, however those bonuses are determined by how teachers performed on their high school SAT/ACT exams – rather than their actual performance as teachers. The solution to dealing with the teacher shortages and concerns about their performance is to increase salaries and properly evaluate their teaching, so that more trained individuals can be confident that the teaching profession can offer them a successful career and a way to support their families. Teachers and their unions have spoken out against this bill. The legislation can claim that this is their attempt to bypass unions and reward teachers directly, but they fail to acknowledge that unions are the teachers – and they don’t support HB7069.

Next there is the issue of “Schools of Hope” – A plan to attract for-profit charter corporations from out of state to set up shop in neighborhoods with failing schools. Why would we want to send Florida tax revenue out of Florida? HB7069 would set the schools up in these areas and would provide them one hundred and forty million dollars in funding. These funds would be given to charter schools so they can construct schools, hire teachers, train teacher, and recruit students.

Why not simply use those funds to help established, but struggling public schools to pay for improvements, such as infrastructure, better funded after-school programs, new books or technology, and all at a lower cost than it would take to start a new charter school, which has profit as a goal. 

From personal experience, charter schools are NOT the solution to the problems in public education.

I attended International Studies Charter High school from sixth to tenth grade before transferring into School for Advanced Studies. During my time in this charter school, I observed the truth that arises from the fact that charter schools are businesses first. I saw teachers getting replaced by less experienced teachers after teaching for years simply because their salaries became too expensive; the cafeteria being turned into classrooms after lunch because the school wanted to bring in more students to increase profits; and the struggle my peers and I went through walking miles home because the state doesn’t require charter schools to provide transportation and, therefore, they did not, as it was viewed as an unnecessary expense. HB 7069 is supposed to offer hope to poor families, but poor families can’t afford transportation for school.

Poor families. These are the ones who will suffer the greatest harm from this bill. Millions of children throughout Florida and the United States are given opportunities through Title I funds in public schools. These programs provide structure to fragile schools that educate multitudes of children suffering from poverty. Under HB7069, the threshold for which schools will qualify for Title I funds would be lowered, which will result in many public schools receiving less money at the district level. This would result in the loss of millions of dollars to programs that offer a glimmer of hope to children living in the harshest conditions.  We, as fellow citizens, have an obligation to help provide children in need with the necessary resources to succeed in life.

Many kids fall behind in school, not because they don’t work hard, but due to homelessness, economic instability, or serious family issues. These children would either typically not be allowed into charter schools or would be dismissed because the cost of helping them to catch up threatens profits. With their schools deprived of the necessary funds to help them realize their potential, poor and struggling children will be left to go the underfunded public school, a block away from the new charter school. Starving neighborhood schools of needed resources so families see no options but charters is not a valid “choice.” That is the reality of the charter schools that would be funded by this bill: it is not about choice, it is about profit. 

The part of this bill that causes the most insecurity to me, as a student, and so many others is how little time was allowed  to properly debate and discuss this massive 278-page bill, a fact that caused Senator David Simmons – a Republican who favors most of the provisions in this bill – to vote against the bill. The process and little time given for the public and other senators to properly read the bill compromises the integrity of our own political process. Democracy requires adequate debate and anything less is just plain wrong.

Please do not allow the Florida legislature to deprive our already underfunded public schools of needed funding. Public schools serve 75% of all students in Florida and provides millions of poor Floridians their only chance at success. Handing over public funds to private corporations, that have not proved they are better at educating children will destroy not only public schools, but school communities. Florida has already documented tens of millions of dollars lost to charter school mismanagement and fraud, with no way to recover those losses. That’s a loss to my education and to the education of every public school student.

HB7069 has some merit to it. There are aspects to the bill that would offer recess to kids, but it also exempts charter schools from providing recess. Do charter operators not want recess for their students? Bright Futures funding was increased, but only for top performers. This will limit many students with learning disabilities from pursuing a college education. It should be increased for all students. Recess and Bright Futures come at the expense of every public school student, current and future.

I ask you respectfully, Governor Scott, please do justice by the students, teachers, and future children and educators of this beautiful and amazing state of ours and line item veto the parts of this bill that will hurt the future of millions of students and millions to come, or veto the bill so that legislators can start over. Florida can and must do better than this. We are counting on you.

Jonathan Suarez, Proud student
School for Advanced Studies, MDCPS
For the latest news updates on the bill, you can search #Veto7069 on Google, Facebook and Twitter.

Why EVERYONE Should Care About The 3rd Grade Retention Lawsuit


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In our last post, I shared the background and chronology of the case to date and why it’s so very important for EVERYONE to support these families in this fight:
Clearing Hurdle 1 to Protect ALL 3rd Graders

The most recent update:
April 5: Parents continue challenge of Florida’s third-grade retention law – Tampa Bay Times

Here is even greater reason to support this cause:

16 other states also practice mandatory 3rd grade retention

This 2014 link contains a table with the 50 states and their policies, showing which states still practice mandatory retention, with caveats and remedies, if any:

The states with mandatory third grade retention on the books:

Last year, Michigan joined this dubious list.

From Monty Neill, Executive Director of FairTest: The National Center for Fair and Open Testing:

This malpractice is growing while high school exit exam scores are declining.

I had never heard this about CA, so I followed a source to national conference state legislatures:

They have an interactive map in this report , so I clicked on CA. That took me to the CA law from 1998. Since then, the state has dropped the grade 2 test noted in the law and in ECS and NCSL. Beyond that, the CA law actually says that it is up to the districts to set up a retention policy and districts can choose between using grades and using state test scores. If the one used indicates retention, the child shall be retained “unless the pupil’s regular classroom teacher determines in writing that retention is not the appropriate intervention for the pupil’s academic deficiencies.”

So, CA does have a retention policy, but it is not so clear cut as those states that say it must be based on the state exam, never mind the few that provide no way for a teacher/school to get around the requirement.

If anyone wants to pursue their state (or another) listed as having a retention requirement and gather the details, please share them. (You may email Monty Neill at

Grade retention is generally a bad educational decision, made worse when done on the basis of test scores. It would be great for test resisters to regularly raise this issue and make it an important part of the fight. A few states and districts have seen some progress, from dropping some grades with test-based grade promo policies (e.g., TX) to districts pretty much removing it (e.g., NYC, in part due to new state law). OK dropped retention from “mandated” to “allowed” due to a strong battle led by an alliance of the NEA affiliate and some civil rights and parent groups.


We have met the short term fundraising goal to help the families get before the Florida Supreme Court, in order to advance their larger case. The documents are filed. There is a long road ahead. They must overturn the issue of venue before their case can even be heard in court.

If they are ultimately successful, powerful people will be unhappy. But children will be protected from harm.

So please keep giving and please keep spreading awareness of this lawsuit and fundraiser: StopGr3Retention
In a recently published longitudinal study, Dr. Kathleen Jasper tracked 23,000 students from 2003/4 to 2013/14 in a single school district in Florida.

Key points from Dr. Jasper’s study:
In a single school district over a 10 yr period COST: $587 Million
93% Remained Below Proficiency On The Grade 10 Reading FCAT
67% remained at a level one on the Grade 10 Reading FCAT.
41% of the retained students did not graduate with a standard high school diploma.
Dr. Shane Jimerson, of the University of California – Santa Barbara is one of the most recognized experts on grade retention. He has published numerous scholarly articles related to grade retention.

Additional research and information regarding grade retention, social promotion, and effective alternatives:

Researchers, scholars, educational professionals, policymakers, and families may benefit from the research available below, recommended by Dr. Jimerson.

The following PDF files are available for you to view by clicking on the name listed below:

Synthesis of Retention Research – CSP 2001
Meta Analysis of Retention Research – SPR 2001
Characteristics & Consequences – JSP 1997
Dropout & Retention – PITS 2002
On the Failure of Failure – JSP 1999
Retention and Dropout – CSP 2002
Exploring Successful Failures – PITS 2001
Beyond Grade Retention and Social Promotion – PITS 2006

Additional reading for parents

K-2 Testing: Why Should I Opt Out?


by Sandy Stenoff

I recently received this private message from the parent of a third grader:

“My daughter is supposed to take the SAT10 next week and I was going to opt her out but I have seen that many parents allow their children to take this exam instead of the FSA. My kid is in 1st so she doesn’t take the FSA Yet. Is the SAT10 a valid and good test ? Is it high stakes for the school or teacher ? Any help would be great.”

It would be one thing if these tests were simply one diagnostic tool among many to help inform instruction – with NO stakes attached. However, because there is no mandate for state testing for K-2, these tests are being used, primarily, to evaluate teachers.

One reason children are so ceaselessly tested is that the laws created in Tallahassee have for too long been driven by Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future. They are a powerful special interest group and while they control a great deal of campaign funding, they are only as powerful with our legislators as we allow them to be. The Foundation has been steadily losing credibility with legislators as year after year, they have had to “direct” testing reforms meant to “correct” prior years’ legislative reforms ad infinitum.

This is the kind of fear-based rhetoric promoted by the Foundation:

And it is baloney.

MOST concerning to parents is the fact that high stakes testing assures that districts force teaching only what is tested now, RESULTING in students NOT having the comprehensive knowledge and skills needed to successfully compete for good jobs.

As to the second statement, oft heard in schools…

If you worry about how your child will ever get into college without the SAT… DON’T.
FACT: The most elite colleges are reducing their reliance on testing for admissions criteria, because they have realized that it limits their pool of desirable applicants AND that the most reliable predictor of college success is STILL the GPA. Based on the work of FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, nearly a thousand colleges are now “test-optional.” (See more below)

I would argue these are REAL concerns for parents of young children:

  • What is my child missing while she is made to focus on testing so much?
  • Why does my child not have at least 20 minutes of daily recess?
  • Why is my child reluctant to go to school?
  • Does my child seem overly stressed or anxious about school?
  • When was the last time my child seemed to enjoy school?
  • How much “screen time” is my child getting in school?
  • What data is being collected about my child and who has access to it?

I’m just a parent. What can I do?
Some courageous legislators have been increasingly willing to stand apart from the crowd and speak out about and stand up to the powers that be. The Foundation remains powerful, because parents, as a group have remained relatively silent, making the Foundation the loudest voice in the room. The answer for parents is to join the conversation and be heard!

Write an e-mail, even a brief one to your legislator. It makes a difference.

Beyond teacher evaluations, districts have no business piling on the testing of our youngest children simply because “they have to do it some time” or because they need  a test score to evaluate teachers. There are better ways to evaluate teachers and it’s NOT the job of our youngest children to do it for the district.

While some teachers say SAT10 is a better test than the FSA, because it can provide useful data, by testing 5 -7 yr olds for “data,” are we saying that the data is valuable at any cost?

So if it is, or if it isn’t just to evaluate teachers, does it matter to you?

On principle, if you think they shouldn’t be testing your 6 yr old, you can just opt her out. There should be no consequence for students in K-2. Further, if your child does test and fails, you will be providing the data with which to remediate or retain her, even if she is proficient and is merely a poor test-taker.

Here are a few questions I’d like my district to answer:

  • What is the purpose of this testing for my 5-8 yr old child?
  • Who, or what law mandates this test for my 6 yr old child?
  • What is the consequence, if any, if she does not take this test (or any district’s progress monitoring test)?

In this case, for first grade, a district will typically say they need an assessment to drive instruction. They even call it “data-driven instruction”. Some even think this is a selling point with parents.

From “5 Doubts About Data-Driven Schools” (NPR – June 3, 2016):

“Educational transcripts, unlike credit reports or juvenile court records, are currently considered fair game for gatekeepers like colleges and employers. These records, though, are getting much more detailed. Arguably, they more closely resemble credit reports, court records or even psychological dossiers.”

Do parents want this kind of data collected about their youngest children? And more importantly, WHO has access to it AND how is it being used?

Here is something that parents can (and should) say in great numbers to their school boards:

“This district has seen fit to hire teachers, to entrust them for 180 days per year with the daily task of educating the children, who will grow up to lead our communities. As an informed parent, I believe that my child’s teacher is the trained professional, educated and experienced in pedagogy and child development.

My child’s teachers works with her daily. My child’s teacher knows my child’s strengths as well as her areas of greatest challenge. Her teacher knows this because she is constantly assessing her by spelling tests and unit tests, by reading with her, by communicating with her and simply, but no less importantly, by observing her as she goes about her daily task of “learning.” These daily classroom assessments provide immediate and arguably, more valuable feedback than can the SAT10, IOWA or any other single standardized test administered under stressful conditions. (The FSA is arguably, the most stressful test administered to 8 yr olds. Like it or not, they ALL know what is at stake for them with this test.) There is NO single test devised that can provide similarly valuable feedback to inform my child’s instruction than the daily assessments performed by my child’s teacher throughout the school year.

Just as there is NO single test devised that can provide similarly valuable feedback to inform my child’s instruction than the daily assessments performed by my child’s teacher – no single test should be used to evaluate my child’s teacher to the extent it is currently being used.

Please stop using children to conduct the district’s adult business.”

Since so little of this data is being used to actually help your child’s education, you can think of it as your child performing free labor for the data-collectors.

Parents should understand that to the districts, to the FLDOE, and to the Florida legislature, your silence (and compliance) is understood as agreement. It is your consent. If you do not agree with state and district accountability policies, it is your parental duty to say so. On the record. The high quality education you want for your child depends on you for that.

If you’re meeting with your child’s school about opting out…
Stay calm and don’t be ruffled. Most of all, at the begining of your meeting, acknowledge that they’re just doing their job and that you respect that. And while you appreciate their concern, you are the parent and are obligated to do what you believe is in your child’s best interest. Hopefully, this will help to put them more at ease so they can sincerely listen to your concerns.

It has been our experience that schools are not deliberately misleading parents. They are often simply sharing information they receive from their districts – which we have found is often inaccurate or incomplete.  Often, asked for the source of the information, schools are unable to produce it.

So ask them for it! You will often find it does not exist.

Parents can be confident that the materials we share in The Opt Out Florida Network is primarily from the Florida Statutes, from the FLDOE, or from direct communications with school districts. All have sources cited.

Parents should feel free to print out any of the materials from the opt out guide or the pocket guide, including the portfolio checklist and instructions (for 3rd grade). The materials should help to demonstrate that you are informed and are not messing around – and hopefully, you will leave the meeting with the staff being more informed as well.

From FairTest: The National Center for Fair and Open Testing:
Click on the links below for new and updated materials that parents, teachers, students and their allies can use to battle the overuse and misuse of standardized tests.