As the Florida Standards Assessments approach, a small but growing number of parents have begun asking pointed questions, opting out their children.State officials have reminded district leaders that schools must administer the tests, and that state law requires student participation. The law, however, also provides options such as portfolio assessments and alternate tests for children who do not sit for the state tests.That's what some parents want for their kids. But they also don't want to keep their children home during the testing window, so they're inquiring about alternatives within the school day.Mark Butler, a supervisor in the Pasco County accountability department, said if children attend school, they will have to go to the testing rooms at the allotted time. They will receive their tests while there.If the students open the test and refuse to continue, he said, they may sit silently and wait for the exam to end. If they attempt to leave, he said, a proctor will encourage them to complete the exam and explain the importance of the test, as well as the consequences of not taking it."Schools are not going to tell the students to disobey what their parents have told them," Butler added.At least one parent has requested that children be allowed to go to a class that is not testing while their classmates take the FSA. Butler said that would be up to individual schools and dependent on things such as space availability.Testing begins in early March.TEACHING SHORTAGES: The Pasco County School District is about to revive its rule allowing some teachers to extend their deferred retirement plans.The district's goal: to keep certified teachers in classrooms for subjects in which educators are in short supply, such as secondary science and foreign languages."We are making plans to allow teachers who are teaching in critical shortage areas the ability to extend their DROP periods (for the 2015-16 school year), provided they continue to teach in a critical shortage area and secure the approval of their administrator for the DROP extension," assistant superintendent for administration Kevin Shibley told the School Board in a recent memo.The district's human resources department is working to identify which teachers would be eligible for an extension. It plans to present them the option and see if they are interested in remaining, with a response date of March 1.GRADUATION HONORS: After superintendent Kurt Browning backed off a proposal last year to eliminate valedictorian and salutatorian honors, he suggested his decision might be temporary.Now Browning says he won't revisit the idea: "We are not trashing vals and sals."The curriculum department is looking instead into smoothing district grading practices so there's consistency from school to school. Students should know that they're not disadvantaged because one teacher offers extra credit while another does not, for example, Browning said."We create this disparity among high schools when it comes to grade-point averages based on the way teachers are creating their syllabi and grading practices," he said. "We are going to look at ways to tighten up grading policies. ... We want to be sure grades are as close to the same as possible from high school to high school."He said the recommendations should be out in the spring, as the School Board prepares the 2015-16 student progression plan.Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. Follow @jeffsolochek.