There is a big push today to give parents “choice” about which schools their children attend. Many parents can also choose, among other things, not to have their children read specific assigned books that they find offensive, participate in sex education classes or attend assemblies they deem controversial. But when it comes to standardized tests, so much for the “choice” movement. Parents in most places aren’t given a choice.
Below is a letter that Pam Stewart, the commissioner of education in Florida, wrote to state Sen. Don Gaetz (R), the president of the Florida Senate in the last legislative session, about the issue of parents opting their children out of state-mandated standardized testing. She says that only in very rare cases can parents opt out their children from state-mandated standardized tests because there is no provision in the law for such an action.
As the number and importance of mandated standardized tests has grown in recent years, an “opt out” movement has developed across the country. Tens of thousands of parents last year chose to keep their children from taking state-mandated standardized tests used for “accountability” purposes, and a small but growing number of teachers have declared that they will refuse to administer tests they think have no value to teachers or students.
Florida is particularly interesting because it was under then-Gov. Jeb Bush that standardized test-based “accountability” testing began. Mandated standardized testing in some grades was required by No Child Left Behind, the national education law passed in the presidential administration of Jeb Bush’s brother, George W. Bush. The Obama administration has ratcheted up the testing stakes, pushing states to link student standardized test scores not only to the fate of schools but to the evaluations of educators.
Jeb Bush’s ties to standardized testing in Florida and his support for the Common Core testing system have become a political issue as he explores the possibility of running for the 2016 Republican nomination for president.
The state’s testing policies have been so rigid that even students with severe disabilities have been forced to take some version of the state’s Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test on the theory that every student can and should be assessed to determine progress. A boy named Michael, who was born without the cognitive part of his brain and couldn’t distinguish an apple from an orange, was forced to take an alternative standardized test until last year. After the case was publicized, the state Education Department granted him a waiver. And Ethan Rediske, who was born with brain damage, had cerebral palsy and was blind, was forced to take a version of the FCAT in 2013, and in 2014, while he was dying, his mother Andrea was required to provide documentation to prove he was in no condition to take the 2014 test. Ethan passed away last February.
Stewart’s letter to Gaetz answers questions he posed to her about the state’s standardized testing policy. At one point, Stewart says:
If students were to opt out, students and parents would not know whether students have mastered the subject content in their courses, which is a basic process of learning.
This is one of the lines that testing proponents frequently say, giving no nod to the teacher-created tests students take, as well as the assignments they complete and papers they read. Teachers, apparently, can’t be trusted to evaluate their own students without benefit of a standardized test score.
Read the letter for yourself: