Florida county opts out of all state-mandated testing in ‘act of civil disobedience’

adfasedfasdfasdfasdf (Screenshot from YouTube video of Lee County School Superintendent Nancy Graham during discussion of opting out)

Florida’s Lee County became  on Wednesday night the first school district in the state to vote to opt out of all state-mandated testing, including exams that are being designed to assess student knowledge of new state standards based on the Common Core.

The Board of Education voted 3 to 2 in favor of opting out — despite the fact that the state can penalize the county for the decision — as anti-testing activists in the audience cheered. Board member Don Armstrong, who supported the testing boycott, said the vote was meant to send “a strong message” to state education officials in Tallahassee that county officials are tired of being told how to run their school system. He said:

“It’s an act of civil disobedience. We stood up for what we thought was right.”

The district’s superintendent, Nancy Graham, was  unenthusiastic, saying she believes the decision will “hurt children,” the News-Press reported. But Armstrong said it was Graham’s job to implement policy as set by the board. “Now it is up to her to adhere to it,” he said.

The pushback from Lee County — the ninth-largest district in the state and the 37th largest in the country, with more than 85,000 students —  is striking in a state that has been at the forefront of standardized test-based “accountability” systems that use student test scores to evaluate not only kids but their teachers, principals, schools and districts. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush was a pioneer in test-based accountability and he continues to support it around the country, even amid a growing revolt around the country by parents and educators against test-based school reform, which has led to narrowed curriculum, obsessive test preparation and other negative consequences. Reformers have insisted that test scores are a legitimate high-stakes evaluation tool, even though assessment experts have repeatedly said otherwise.

The Lee County school board voted to opt public schools out of all state-mandated testing. That includes standardized tests that will assess the new Sunshine State Standards, which were “adopted” after Florida pulled out of the Common Core and set forth new standards that were very similar. According to Armstrong, the boycott also includes state-mandated end-of-course exams, which are supposed to be given starting this year in every course that does not have a standardized test attached to it. The end-of-course exams, however, can be locally designed, do not have to be standardized computer or paper-and-pencil tests and can include a range of options.

Asked what the state Department of Education could do to the county for taking this position, he said Florida could withhold state funds from the country and take other action, including removing a member from the board. A summary of possible consequences for the county, issued by the county’s school district attorney, included a number of other potential consequences, including the possibility that high school students could not complete state requirements to graduate. You can see the entire list here.

The News-Press reported that board member-elect Pam LaRiviere said she believes the vote will prompt other school boards across Florida to do the same thing.

The state is sure to respond to Lee County, and I’ll write about the reaction when it happens and how Lee County then responds.

Here’s a video of the board discussion on Wednesday night. The vote begins at 51:15:

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.

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Valerie Strauss · August 27, 2014