I answered some questions about opting out of standardized testing. Read my email to teachers below.

Dear Colleague:

Testing season has begun with the Florida Standards Assessments writing exam. With the renewal of Florida’s massive state testing program come increasing calls to just opt out of the tests.

We, as educators in the classroom understand just how difficult the pressure to perform weighs on our students, and their parents, teachers and other education employees.

In her weekly call to school district superintendents, Education Commissioner Pam Stewart stated:.

“We all know there have been questions about opt out and that there were situations where this occurred last year. Section 1008.22, F.S., regarding statewide, standardized assessments, states clearly that participation is mandatory for all districts and all students attending public schools. My belief is that students that do not want to test should not be sitting in public schools, as it is mandatory and required for students seeking a standard high school diploma. Statewide, standardized assessments are part of requirement to attend school, like immunization records. That is our message and what we send to you to be shared with your staff.”

Wow…. Is that really the message for parents and taxpayers in our public school system? If you don’t like it, you can leave.

This debate must continue and educators must speak out.  But the threat of retribution is real.  School employees – particularly teachers who hold professional certificates – must be aware of the difference between advocating for policy change and encouraging disregard for current statute.  There are also major consequences for students if they do not take certain state tests.

Following is a Q & A that should be helpful in the coming weeks:

Questions and Answers about Opting Out of Standardized Testing

I am hearing parents, teachers and even some students talk about opting out of state standardized tests.

Parents need to be fully informed of the possible consequences that could stem from their child failing to take required tests. The educational consequences of a student refusing to participate in statutorily required assessment testing, under current Florida law, can be severe.

What should I tell parents that ask me about opting their child out of standardized tests?

As a teacher, you need to know that you have a professional and ethical obligation to uphold district policy and state law; therefore, you should not encourage students and/or parents to opt out of any mandatory test because that action MAY lead to sanctions from the state against your certificate and/or discipline by the district.

Although we are very sympathetic to the concerns of parents and teachers, there are very real consequences for the students particularly for grade 3 retention, in courses that require end-of course exam scores be included in calculating final averages as well as courses required for high school graduation.

Parents should be directed to the principal, the district superintendent and/or school board members as the ones who set and implement district policy.

The text of the governing statutes are included below.

Section 1008.22(3), Florida Statutes (“Statewide, Standardized Assessment Program”) provides:

“Participation in the assessment program is mandatory for all school districts and all students attending public schools, including adult students seeking a standard high school diploma under s. 1003.4282 and students in Department of Juvenile Justice education programs, except as otherwise provided by law.  If a student does not participate in the assessment program, the school district must notify the student’s parent and provide the parent with information regarding the implications of such nonparticipation.”

Section 1008.22(3)(a), Florida Statutes.

“In order to earn a standard high school diploma, a student who has not earned a passing score on the grade 10 Reading assessment or, upon implementation, the grade 10 ELA assessment must earn a passing score on the assessment retake or earn a concordant score as authorized by subsection (7)” (which permits substitution of SAT and ACT scores if approved by the Commissioner).

Section 1008.25(4)(a), Florida Statutes, provides that “each student must participate in the statewide, standardized assessment program required by s. 1008.22.”

The law further provides that students who do not demonstrate proficiency on such assessments must be retained [section 1008.25(5), Florida Statutes].

Section 1003.4282(1)(b), Florida Statutes, requires, for issuance of a standard high school diploma, inter alia, that “any must-pass assessment requirements must be met.”

Courses with state End of Course (EOC) exams must include the EOC as 30% of the final average and a passing score on the Algebra I and 10th grade language arts tests are graduation requirements. Section 1003.4282(3)(a), (b), (c) and (d).

Wait? Don’t I have the right to voice my professional or personal opinion on this issue?

Gagging teachers is one of the many direct and intended consequences of Senate Bill 736, the very first bill signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

Teachers can no longer speak out in the best interest of students, or for themselves. Teacher evaluations are affected and job security can be threatened if teachers do not implement current policies…even those widely recognized as educationally unsound.  The most effective and highly effective annual contract teachers can be released for any reason or for no reason at all.

So what can we, as education professionals, do to fix this misguided system? Our students are being subjected to toxic levels of testing and cheated out of an education!

The last two legislative sessions have occurred so close together that we cannot know how testing has improved until after the session is over. Don’t let your local legislators remain uninformed about what is happening in your classrooms with student testing and learning.

We do know that despite the minimal changes in teacher evaluation and student testing last year, many school districts have continued to require progress monitoring. The state testing requirements for on-line administration and the complex combinations of tests our students must take still disrupt the normal learning cycle for our students.

Legislators need to know if they solved the testing problems with last year’s legislation and your voice is vital for keeping them informed.

What can I tell friends and family who are concerned about their children and the future of our public schools? What can they do to help?

As the president of the Florida Education Association representing more than 140,000 school employees and 2.7 million students, I truly understand the anger, stress and frustration of those who work in our public schools as well as the parents and students. However frustrated and well intentioned we are, we cannot allow students to be harmed by our actions.

The changes to Florida’s accountability system that we all need must come from statutory changes. Florida voters must hit the reset button on education reform by turning out and voting out those who are responsible for what The Gainesville Sun has dubbed, “an incomprehensible mess.”

There is little doubt that Florida’s use of testing must change, and we must be involved through our voices and our vote.


Joanne McCall