School testing: What are the consequences?

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BAY COUNTY, Fla (WJHG) - If you have a child in public schools, they're most likely busy taking state mandates testing.

The district's coordinator of Assessment and Accountability, Camilla Hudson, said testing is going far better than last year, with fewer technical glitches on the Florida Standards Assessments.

Hudson said the district also expects the FSA grades to be returned much faster, too. But as testing has returned to a new normal, so have the consequences.

In third grade, the reading assessment is the only factor in a child's retention or promotion to fourth grade. In tenth grade, passing reading is a graduation requirement.

But there are a few fail safes for a bad score. Third graders who won't pass can go to summer school or take a replacement test to avoid getting held back. Tenth graders can retake it until they pass or take the SAT or ACT as a replacement.

For all other grades, the score is used to determine to help determine which classes they'll take the next year. This isn't just protocol, it's also law.

"Students attending public schools are required to take the assessment," Hudson said.

Not taking the test leaves the district and state without valid assessment scores.

"Sometimes there's not information, complete information, to make a decision on promotion or retention," Hudson said. "And that's when we become involved with the Department of Education and seeking their support."

D.O.E. support is something some districts could be seeking more of.

Some Florida parents are turning to the state's Opt Out Network. It's a coalition of parents choosing to have their kids refuse to answer questions on state mandated testing.

Since the dawn of state testing, refusal to participate in testing is not new. What is new is the desire of parent to keep their kids in the public school system while refusing the tests.

"It is a protest to reclaim public education," Cindy Hamilton told NewsChannel 7 by phone. "We're not willing to leave it. We're here to fight for it."

Hamilton is a mom of three in Orlando. She co-founded the Opt Out Network a few years ago and has worked to push it to 35 of Florida's school districts, including Bay County's. The alliance can usually be found in the form of Facebook support groups. Bay County's Opt Out community, currently has more than 200 members on Facebook.

But Hamilton will stress that the movement is not anti-testing.

"We're fighting for autonomy for teachers. We're fighting for equally funded education. We are fighting for the right of our students to learn how to think and not what to think," Hamilton said. "We're not going to abandon public education, that's the whole point of Opt Out."

She said opting out is a form of protest. It's not their first choice in petition to state education leaders, but what they feel now is their only choice to draw attention to their concerns. Hamilton said the movement has started a conversation among lawmakers in Tallahassee.

"It's done what all of our letter writing could not do."

The Opt Out movement is not recognized by the state. Opt outers have resources to support parents taking the plunge, including pamphlets that explain that if kids refuse in the recommended manner, then they have participated in the tests to the extent of the law.

Protocol at that point, especially when it comes to third grade retention and promotion, can be unclear.

"So if a student does choose to opt out then we do not have a score which to base that decision upon," Hudson, said.

When asked what they do then, Hudson said it's a good question.

"We are in contact with the Florida Department of Education seeking their guidance and clarification for these matters."

Part of state concern stems from mandates requiring schools to test 95 percent of their student body.

"But let's say a school had the points for an A but didn't meet that 95 percent tested, they would not receive a school grade and their school would not receive bonus monies nor would the teachers receive their A plus money as well," Hudson said of the effects. "So that would be a negative impact for the schools and the teachers."

Opt out leaders instruct children to break the seal of their paper-based tests and refuse to answer questions. If they're doing it online, they're instructed to log in to the test, skip to the end without answering any questions. They recommend this manner to show that the schools attempted to test the student so it wouldn't adversely affect the school. But that could change.

"We've received some conflicting information from the department of education this year in that that may no longer be the case," Hudson said. "If a student doesn't answer enough questions, then that percent tested will definitely be impacted."

This is even if the student breaks the seal or logs into the test. But Hudson said, they're still seeking clarification from the state on the changes.

Hamilton said the Opt Out movement's goal is to start conversation, hold decision makers accountable and shine light onto how policy about education is made.

There is one thing Bay District Schools and the movement can see eye to eye on. It's that accountability is necessary, but the system by which it is administered needs changing.

"We want some of the people who know our children best not from a testing corporation or a vendor that's hired by the state of Florida," Hamilton said.

Hudson said it's simply too much.

"I believe maybe they could look at doing some gap testing where they test maybe every other year, or every few years for the students to check their learning growth and still be able to get an accurate picture of how the child is proceeding in their education."

Hudson said there are some good cause exemptions by which some special education and English Language Learning students can be exempt from passing the test. They still encourage the ELL students to take the test, so they can be prepared for when it counts.

Hudson added that if they do not have a valid score on file for a student, they look at various sources to determine which classes the child should take. She added that opting out of End of Course exams can affect a child's GPA and that there are some benefits to students who perform well on the FSAs.

Additionally, Hudson and a spokesperson with the Department of Education said the majority of students in Florida take the standardized tests.

Hamilton said parents interested in the movement should not have their children Opt Out until they fully understand the process because it is intensive, and, she said, parents are likely to receive push back from the district.

NewsChannel 7 reached out to Bay County's Opt Out parent group to share their thoughts with us. We did not receive a response.

For more information, see the attached links.
As the school year wraps up, so too does the testing season for the Florida Standards Assessments (FSA).

Bay District Schools Assessment and Accountability Coordinator said testing is going much better this year, with fewer glitches.

Many of the usual consequences for testing are back, including mandates regarding promotion, retention and graduation based on the test scores.

But districts across the state are also dealing with a form of protest that encourages parents to have their children refuse the tests.

Thursday at 10 p.m., NewsChannel 7 will delve into the consequences of the FSA grades and the group that claims they're not accepting them.

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