A large component of the accountability system in Florida includes using standardized tests to evaluate and measure school districts, administrators, teachers and students. The most commonly used assessment is referred to as the Florida Standards Assessment, or FSA, which is administered in grades 3 – 10 each year. Florida students also take end of course exams, or EOC’s, in many subjects. State-directed assessment schedules can be viewed online.
The state mandates that school districts administer these tests in order to meet graduation and retention requirements, as well as to receive much-needed funding to keep schools in operation. The statewide accountability system relies on the high stakes placed on these tests, which include school grades (A – F ratings, which are based almost completely on standardized test scores for elementary schools and are a major component for middle and high school grades) and teacher and administrator evaluations. In some cases the test scores can have a major impact on whether a child is retained or moves on the next grade.
The state not only requires school districts to administer a certain number of state-created tests each year, but they also require that districts monitor progress and capture additional data, leading districts to have to implement additional tests on their own (contact your individual district for a list of district required tests). Often, these tests are not used as learning tools for students or teachers, but rather simply to provide required data to the state.
Many parents and teachers are not happy with the environment the high stakes tests have created in classrooms and the negative effect they are having on students. Because of the high stakes placed on tests by the state, teachers are forced to focus on test preparation at the expense of real learning. Children complain of test anxiety and no longer enjoy learning. Teachers are on edge as well, and many have been threatened that they will risk losing their job if they speak up about the problems with education reform. In many schools, young children are being deprived of daily recess in order to create more time for test preparation.
Additional resources about high stakes testing:
The Misuse of Standardized Tests
Problems with FL’s standardized testing
Position paper from the FL Association of School Psychologists on the FCAT (now FSA)
Florida Principal Speaks out about Testing
Florida Consortium of School Boards Speaks out about Testing
Problems with the use of Student Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers (research paper by the Economic Policy Institute)
Standardized Testing Fact Sheets
Opting Out/Refusing Tests
Parents are looking for a way to relieve their children, teachers and schools of the burden placed on them by all of these reform efforts. As a way to send a message to the state, as well as bring their children much-needed relief, parents are choosing to have their child minimally participate in standardized tests (also known as opting out). The state statutes are somewhat confusing on this issue, and lots of conflicting information is being disseminated by politicians and schools. The Opt Out Florida Network, a grassroots community group dedicated to ending high stakes tests in Florida schools, has done extensive research on this subject, and offers recommendations for parents who want to refuse tests.
Districts across the state have formed opt out groups to provide parents with more information about how minimal participation works in those areas. Visit your district page to learn more. You can also join the statewide opt out group.