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.