by Sandy Stenoff

So you’ve had enough of the High Stakes High Pressure on your 8-year old and you want to know how to OPT OUT of the Third Grade FSA?

THIRD GRADE PARENTS…THIS IS FOR YOU.

If you’ve just found us, you may be frantic… or furious… about your little one being more stressed than you’ve ever seen her over the FSA… since Day One of this school year. Your child in the third grade is eight, maybe nine years old. They should be enjoying school, learning to love reading, learning to love learning. Has your child been enjoying school? How aware is your young child of the high stakes attached to testing? Is that OK with you? Since you’re reading this… probably not so much.

Take a deep breath and do some reading here. It’s not scary, and it’s not complicated, but there are details that you, as the parent, must pay attention to.

THE DECISION TO OPT OUT
Parents choose to opt out for many different reasons.

There is a 32% failure rate built into the FSA.
More than 3 out of 10 students will fail the FSA
…by design.

If your child opts out of the FSA, she will not receive a failing score. She will receive NO SCORE. This is no worse than failing. THEN, the school (and you) will have to use a state-approved alternative assessment to qualify as a Good Cause Exemption to promote your child to the fourth grade.

Opting out of the Third Grade FSA is one of the two highest risk years for testing and for opting out (tenth grade is the other). There is a 32% failure rate built into the FSA. It is pre-determined that more than 3 out of 10 students will fail the FSA… by design.

Florida is one of the sixteen states with mandatory third grade retention, meaning that if your child takes the FSA and fails, she will be flagged for retention, even with a satisfactory report card, UNTIL she passes one of the state’s approved alternative assessments, which are also listed in THE OPT OUT GUIDE. These are the SAME alternative assessments used for promotion when one has no score, for any reason, including opting out.

Different districts use different assessments for Good Cause Exemptions. Google is your friend. To find yours, look up your district’s current Student Progression Plan.
For example: Pinellas County Schools 2019 Student Progression Plan.

It is YOUR responsibility to work with the school to make sure that there is an alternative assessment in place that your child can/will navigate successfully. Your best bet is to request a portfolio, but be prepared. Many districts have interpreted this to mean the state’s “test portfolio” – which is really 42 mini-FSA tests given throughout the year to demonstrate passing the required standards. Many schools are already doing this as a safety net, in case a student fails. Your child may already have a “test portfolio” started. Ask the teacher for a status.

We don’t like the test portfolio. Haven’t heard of one teacher who’s said they like it either. The test portfolio may actually be more time-consuming than the FSA. And it still gives up your child’s data.

Many teachers say the mini-tests are more difficult for the kids because the tests are sometimes administered before the standards are even taught. And the questions are secret, just like the FSA. They are made up from the state’s test bank, which is why they are secret. Your child’s teacher is NOT ALLOWED to see the portfolio test questions. We are supposed to just trust that the state is testing what they tell the teachers to teach.  How does that work for you? 

Only you can decide if you will stand on principle and fight for a real portfolio over any kind of standardized test as the bar your child must clear for promotion. In case you choose to allow your child to take an alternative assessment,  you should know – teachers have told us that they like the SAT10 or the TerraNova. The IOWA is not the same as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) that we all took in school. It is the newfangled Common Core-aligned IOWA. To find out what assessment your district uses for a Good Cause Exemption, look in your district’s Student Progression Plan.

This article from the 2016 third grade opt out in Sarasota explains what you might expect to hear from your district to pressure you into agreeing to the test portfolio:
Parents, students protest ‘opt out’ repercussions

HOWEVER, parents CAN request an actual portfolio. The FLDOE says so right here on page 6 of this document: Promotion to Grade 4 Technical Assistance Paper (TAP)
Please be sure to read the definition of a teacher-created portfolio further on.Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 12.27.56 AM 2
A portfolio is a collection of work done in school which represents her knowledge and/or mastery of the required standards. Some schools may resist this -because it’s not a test score, and data is currency. You can compile a portfolio yourself. Collect everything she has done all year long. Keep it in date order in a three ring binder.

READ THE THIRD GRADE OPT OUT TOOLBOX!
There are IMPORTANT links in the Toolbox to help you to get a statutorily allowed portfolio – as opposed to the test “portfolio.”
http://bit.ly/Gr3OptOutToolbox

A Real Portfolio (developed by two teachers, who successfully opted their children out of the 3rd grade FSA):
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

Some schools have strongly refused the teacher-created portfolio and some parents have therefore chosen to withdraw their third grader from school at the end of the year – even the last day of school – and register them as a homeschooler. Their portfolio was certified as good for promotion to the 4th grade by a certified teacher. They then successfully re-enrolled the child in school as a fourth grader. If your child has no documented reading deficiency and is on grade level, this strategy may be an option for you.

Yes, these are silly games we are forced to play with the districts. The struggle is real.

If you choose this option, we may be able to help you locate a teacher who can evaluate your child’s portfolio and certify it if your child passes the standards. You can read about one family’s experience with this strategy in the update at the end of this post: Fear and Loathing in a Florida School. 

IMPORTANT – If a child is in a charter school or a magnet school out of your school zone, and is withdrawn, the student may lose her place there. If she is in a regular public school, this is not usually a problem.

To pick up or not to pick up?
You know your child best. Can he sit quietly and not disrupt his classmates who are testing?

It is important to acknowledge that even young children can be taught to be proud to stand up for their beliefs, if we teach them by example and if they understand our decisions.

Talk to them. They get it. They live it every day.

Some children, after opting out for the first time, choose to “sit and stare” as their own silent protest.  We enthusiastically support this action!

The ACT of Opting Out
Please see the Opt Out Guide for opting out of a paper-based test: bit.ly/2019OptOutGuide

Discussing Opt Out with younger kids
If you haven’t discussed opting out of the FSA with your child, start now. They will be doing the opting out in front of their teacher and friends and it will be easier for them to opt out if they understand your decisions for them.

If you don’t know where to start, these may help:
– 8 Yr Old Talks Test Prep
– If I Didn’t Opt Out, I’d Be A Liar

We will never promise you that there are no consequences to opting out. 
We can promise you that if you do nothing… nothing will change.

There is something you can do – DENY THE DATA. OPT OUT.