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In Florida, we fight the FL DOE’s relentless campaign of intimidation and propaganda, half-truths and outright lies, which is perpetuated by school districts every single time a parent is told that there is no opt out and that their child will suffer if they don’t take the state tests.

FACT:  Children suffer MORE from a low score than from NO score.

As we KNOW, many parents have been opting out successfully for years, but too many parents are still unaware that it is even possible to opt out.

In an effort to help grow the opt out movement in Florida, Ricardo Ocampo is blazing a trail of activism across South Florida.  He says:

Defying the law is controversial but that is how all, and I repeat all, social and political change has happened in this country.

Increasingly, teachers are stepping out of their comfort zone and are fighting back with us. We need every student, parent and teacher with us in this fight for the soul of public education.

From the April 22, 2015 Miami Herald article, “Movement to ‘opt out’ of standardized testing slow to grow in Miami-Dade schools“:

Ocampo, a social studies teacher at William H. Turner Technical Arts High, is taking the matter into his own hands. Along with other educators and parents, he has launched a small group that is trying to grow support for Opt Out. They call themselves the Grassroots Education Movement of Miami, or GEM. 

They are traveling to churches in black neighborhoods and gathering in union halls to recruit new supporters. Ocampo acknowledges GEM faces an uphill battle.

“South Florida doesn’t have a strong activist and labor movement overall, compared to places like Chicago, California and New York. So we’re dealing with that first. Secondly, people have a lot of doubts. They don’t know whether it’s legal or not,” he said. 

Their goal for now is just to educate as many people as possible, so they can spread the word. 

“We’re not going to wait around for politicians,” Ocampo said.

On May 11, at the Miami-Dade Public Schools board meeting, Social Studies Teacher and GEM organizer, Ricardo Ocampo set the record straight in a blistering speech, addressing the rights of parents and students to opt out of state testing.

On May 11, at the Miami-Dade County Public Schools board meeting, Social Studies Teacher and Grassroots Education Movement of Miami(GEM) organizer, Ricardo Ocampo set the record straight in a blistering speech, addressing the rights of parents and students to opt out of state testing.

Here is the transcript of his address to the MDCPS board and Supt. Carvalho:

Good evening School Board members and Superintendent,

I decided to sign up to speak after watching a 7th grade student, Isabella Perdomo, speak about FSA testing and opting out during the March 9th School Board meeting. She asked what would happen if a student was not present for the testing or make-up, and was curious about the possible consequences of not taking the exam. She referred to this as opting out. There are some things that she said and that were brought up by District personnel that I’d like to briefly discuss.

Minimally participating
First of all, it’s important to note that opt-out looks differently from state to state. In Florida the approach taken by most parents is having their children “minimally participate” in the state exams. While it’s true that there is a Florida statute 1008.22 that requires all districts and students to participate in the state exams, the definition of “participation” is not clearly defined and is thus open to interpretation. ‘Minimally participating’ entails breaking the seal of an exam or logging into the exam but not answering a single question, thus earning an NR code. This is very different from not sitting for the exam at all.

At that meeting also, Board member Navarro asked whether opting out is an option, and was told by District personnel that it is not. But actually, it IS an option. Is it written in state statute? No. The Superintendent is correct, it is not. But, in fact, many parents and their children have opted out successfully already. I know of many parents who have opted their children out of the exams, and their children have gone on to graduate, enter college, and be successful in their higher education.

There is a Facebook group called Opt Out Miami-Dade – with roughly 1600 members and many parents there who have opted out their children from the exams. Even the president of the United Teachers of Dade, Fedrick Ingram stated on the weekly UTD radio program on April, 22 2016 that he has opted out his own children. Therefore, I do not think that “misinformation” is getting out into the community, as suggested by district personnel.

Another point that was made by District personnel (Ms. Izquierdo specifically) is that “if you don’t take the FSA in the 10th grade, you don’t graduate.” This is not necessarily true, as there are alternatives like concordant scores on the Act or SAT. In 3rd grade you also have alternatives, like portfolios. These alternatives need to be discussed between parents and the administration from the very beginning of the school year so that the process is carried out smoothly.

Federal law does say that states must test at least 95% of students each year, or face the possibility of losing federal funds. Yet New York, California, and another 6 states with large opt out movements fell below 95% threshold last year. And according to a WLRN article from April 18, 2014 “their only penalty was to submit written plans to boost future participation,” and states did not lose ANY funding.

Another issue dealing with opt-out is harassment or intimidation. Students should not be badgered or intimidated by anyone into taking the exams. In an April 22, 2016 Miami Herald article, quotes Gisela Feild, the head of testing for Miami-Dade schools stated that the district does not direct its principals and test chairs to put pressure on parents. However, there are several testimonies from parents and students that show otherwise. Just a couple of weeks ago, there was a parent and child at Miami Lakes Education Center that faced this exact type of harassing behavior from the administration when they decided to opt out of the FSA exam. Moreover, several other parents on the Opt-Out Miami-Dade page have expressed similar complaints about the treatment that their children have received from school administrators. This is shameful, unacceptable, and should not occur. One cannot force a child to take an exam. Only the parent has the right to tell his or her child what to do.

Privatization and Civil Rights – The Issue of our Era
To conclude, the testing system that’s been set up is a disaster. Recent data shows that both math and reading scores on the (NAEP) National Assessment of Educational Progress test, have dropped for 4th, 8th, and 12th grades. We are not making progress, but are actually going backwards and doing a disservice to our children and their futures.

The testing craze has converted our public schools into year-round ‘testing centers,’ thus creating a great obstacle for students, teachers, and administrators and greatly hindering the overall learning environment. I’d go so far as to say that this is THE Civil Rights Issue of our era. Children are put under unnecessary stress, teachers are evaluated with bogus tools like VAM (Value Added Measure) which the Superintendent agrees are flawed.

So we cannot simply sit by and wait for elections and elected officials to MAYBE change these BAD policies when it is our children, the future leaders of our society, who are being denied a quality education. Low test scores on state exams are used by so-called school reformers (like Bill Gates, and the Broad and Walton Foundations) to add more funding to charter schools and eventually privatize the entire public education system.

I agree that defying the law is controversial, but that is how ALL and I repeat ALL social and political change has occurred in history. We would still have slavery, Jim Crow, no women’s suffrage, no collective bargaining rights, minimum wage, etc., had it not been for civil disobedience.

People are being forced to take action, because what we see is the destruction of public education. That is why there is a statewide network of opt out groups (as well as a national movement) that are saying, “Enough is enough.”

Parents everywhere are grateful to courageous teachers like Ricardo Ocampo and Ceresta Smith, who are standing tall for their students and fellow teachers as they call out the intimidation and misinformation, condoned and perpetuated by their district leadership in OUR public schools.