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by Sandy Stenoff

I recently posted a checklist for a statutory portfolio, created by certified teachers, that meets the State’s requirements for a portfolio assessment, using not a series of test bank items, but third grade classwork, which, by the way, includes tests.

What’s going on right now?
Many schools have been welcoming and accommodating, but others have resisted and even pushed back. Some schools have gone so far as to declare that students with no prior history of reading difficulty suddenly have a reading deficiency…. OK… isn’t this the perfect reason why a portfolio should be maintained?

Like many others, I’ve successfully opted my ten and twelve year old children out of testing for the past four years, without incident. The path will be much clearer after the judge rules on the state’s and districts’ appeals and we are all anxious for resolution, but in the meantime, here are some suggestions:

STEP 1:
Develop a relationship of respect with your child’s teacher. It will go a long way to
fostering mutual trust all year long. Necessary. Your request for a portfolio can wait until AFTER Open House. There is too much going on at Open House and you need to have a one-on-one conversation.

AFTER Open House, email and ask for a brief meeting, before or after school to address some concerns and observations.

Print this brief letter out, bring it with you to give it to the teacher at your meeting. E-mail a copy to the teacher and principal after the meeting to maintain a record of your request.


Date:

Dear Ms. Crabtree,

I have concerns about (name)’s performance on testing, which could put him at risk of retention. I am therefore asking respectfully, that a portfolio of classwork be maintained for him.

In order to make this as simple as possible for you, I have attached a sample Third Grade Portfolio Checklist with Portfolio Instructions that meets the state’s portfolio requirements. Other teachers have found it extremely helpful.

Thank you, in advance for your kind cooperation. Please let me know if I can be of assistance to you and if you have any questions. We’re looking forward to a great year in your class!

Sincerely,

That’s it.
____________

Your own checklist of items to print and bring with you to meeting:

  1. Brief letter requesting portfolio – 2 signed and dated copies
  2. Third Grade Portfolio Checklist 2016-2017
  3. Third Grade Portfolio Instructions 2016-2017

Step 2: The meeting 
Be respectful of the teacher (and students). Be on time. You can be frank and let the teacher know that you see and feel a lot of emphasis put on making sure the kids pass a test that isn’t even for another seven months. Tell her you have concerns that although your child is a good student, that you are concerned that he isn’t consistently a great test-taker and one bad day could be a disaster, putting him at risk of retention, so you are requesting that she, please, maintain a portfolio.

Present your letter and let her know that it is not your intention to create more work for her, so you have taken the liberty to share the portfolio checklist with her. The extra copy of the letter is for the principal.

You can choose to discuss opting out of the test or not at this time. I would suggest that unless you feel the teacher will be supportive, that you hold off on this, as long as you know that a portfolio will be maintained, you got what you came for. There is plenty of time to notify the teacher and school that you will be opting out.

If you feel you must advise the school about opting out, let them know that you have done your homework and have considered this carefully. You are taking a stand because you see how testing drives everything in school.

Let the teacher know that you trust her professional judgment and ability to teach and assess your child on a daily basis, far more then you trust a single test on a single day to tell you if your child is learning and developing appropriately and whether your child is fit for promotion or not.

Step 3: If your request for a portfolio is refused.
No need to raise the specter of opting out just yet. If the teacher or principal still resist the portfolio after this, then you can go into more detail.

“To clarify – if you are refusing to maintain a portfolio for Matthew, I’d like to point out that per FS 1008.25(5)(c)7.,

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

In the interest of making sure that Matthew is able to demonstrate mastery of the standards at the end of the year, please let me know if I can be of help in organizing his portfolio.

Thank you for your understanding.”

This also applies if the school tells you that the portfolio tests are the only acceptable portfolio. It simply isn’t true.

Step 4: Maintaining your own portfolio at home
If you choose not to fight the school and want to compile your child’s portfolio, then you will still need to collect ALL work completed at school to get it all organized.

“As you are not maintaining a student portfolio for Matthew, as I requested, I am formally requesting that you notate the standard(s) assessed on each assignment completed in class and return to me weekly, so that I may keep a portfolio that will demonstrate that he is fit for promotion at the end of the year.

If you are maintaining the portfolio, all you need is a 3-ring binder and a few dividers. Separate the work into subjects (Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies) and save them in date order.
____________

The threat of retention can cause anxiety for many families, but I’d like to ask you to put yourself in the teacher’s shoes for a moment. A curt, demanding letter from a parent can be intimidating and is, at the very least, off-putting. It’s possible for this process to take a few weeks of communicating back and forth, especially if the school invokes the powers of the district. It could be a very simple one time conversation, but it could also be challenging. Be patient. If you start early, you should have ample time.

Help and support are always available to you at Opt Out Florida Third Grade.

NOTE
Many teachers are still unaware that districts were taken to task by Judge Gievers for not doing a portfolio as parents requested early on. They may be unaware that going forward, such refusal may be considered a violation of Judge Gievers’ Court Order.

Feel free to print out these sections of the Judge’s ruling for your child’s teacher if you feel you need the back up:

Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 4.38.32 PM

Summary of Rulings #18, p 13 of 51

Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 4.33.01 PM

Summary of Rulings #40, p 24-25 of 51

Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 4.43.54 PM

Rulings #5, p 49 of 51

This may be all that’s needed, though I’d hate to start the year off this way. Based on your relationship with the teacher, it’s a judgement call on your part.

Try to keep it as simple and as cordial as possible. You CAN assume the best and give teachers and staff the benefit of the doubt, unless they prove you wrong.  There is no need to put anyone on the defensive. Smile.

YES – How can we work together in the best interests of my child?
NO  – Why won’t you do this for me?

Consider for just a moment, that most teachers are not even aware of “Activist World.” Most teachers stay up late grading tests and assignments, working on lesson plans, answering emails from PARENTS. Many teachers sacrifice precious personal time with their own families so that they can do their best for other people’s children.

So parents, please think twice before storming the castle, waving the judge’s orders and demanding portfolios. Parents absolutely have a right to ask for, and to receive a portfolio. But let’s first think of how we can help teachers to understand that we want to work WITH them, that we are doing this because we have more faith in them than we do in a single high stakes test and we support them as the experts.

Teachers should be aware that you are HELPING to make sure that your child is promoted, not retained, which one would also assume could ultimately affect his/her evaluation.

Until now, I have felt that some of the most successful opt outs are done quietly in schools, where there is no disruption caused to your child’s classmates and school.

But is DISRUPTION what is needed to cause an entire paradigm shift?

Disruption in your child’s school (not OK) is different from disruption in the community (very OK).  Disruption doesn’t have to be “in your face” with your school. It can be simply you sharing what you know everywhere. It can look like this car in the carpool line every day. This one happens to belong to a former teacher.

kim-donahoo-car

Or it could look like a parent sharing Opt Out flyers at Saturday soccer. (Updated flyers will be available soon after the judge rules on the state’s appeal.)

Disruption could also look like parents addressing genuine concerns at public school board meetings. We must hold those in positions of authority accountable. We can do that by being a voice for our children with those who make the decisions affecting our children’s daily experience in school. If parents are to have an authentic voice in their child’s education, they must not only be informed, but they must help others to be informed as well. That includes school board members, legislators, etc. When you inform them at board meetings and legislative delegation meetings, it’s a public record and you take away their ability to claim, “I didn’t know.”

If we are to take our classrooms back for real teaching and learning, imagine this…

If your child’s teacher knew that none of her students would be taking the FSA, what would be the point of ANY test prep? She would be free to teach authentically and your child would be free to LEARN. Imagine just one classroom like this all year long. Now, imagine all classrooms like this, all year long, across our entire state.

When I asked my son’s teacher to do a portfolio a few years ago, she said it was no problem, because she had already started to do it for a few kids in class, who she felt were struggling. This is nothing new. It has been done, is being done and you have a right to ask. So ask. Nicely.

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