Romano: Is the standardized testing 'opt out' movement gaining clout?

Published October 21 2015
Updated October 22 2015

Mathematically speaking?

The student testing Opt Out movement in Florida is statistically insignificant.

Politically speaking?

Those suburban soccer moms seem to have Tallahassee buzzing.

Based on figures from the state's Department of Education, less than 1 percent of 2015 test results would likely be categorized as part of the Opt Out crusade. That translates to something like one out of every 160 students.

Yet, the total number of students with incomplete scores — which was the preferred Opt Out strategy to protest the state's standardized testing — was more than 20,000. And that means nearly four times as many students chose to opt out compared with the previous year.

Interestingly enough, Opt Out leaders are not touting the increasing numbers. And that's because they think the numbers are much higher.

The state's data does not include students who refused to open their tests or stayed home on exam days, making exact figures difficult to find.

The better indicator might be the number of lawmakers and school board members who are openly questioning Florida's testing habits, as well as the state's backtracking in a handful of matters.

"When Opt Out is being mentioned on the floor of the Senate and the floor of the House, and is being talked about by the education commissioner who keeps claiming it isn't a legitimate possibility, then there's no denying they're feeling the heat," said Cindy Hamilton, one of the original founders of Opt Out in Orlando.

"They are on the defensive, and they're losing ground. They keep backing up and backing up, and they're going to discover the only thing behind them is a cliff."

The difficulty in measuring success for Opt Out is that the movement is rather loosely defined. Some supporters have issues with what they see as federal intrusion, some are concerned with pushing standards too high too quickly, some are concerned with the validity of the tests and some are concerned with growing emphasis on tests.

Laura Oosse McCrary, who started Opt Out in Pinellas, said her group had about 70 members in the spring but has grown to more than 200 as parents learn more about the state's FCAT replacement known as the Florida Standards Assessments.

"Opt Out is opening a lot of eyes," McCrary said. "Eventually, it's going to wake up legislators in this state."

House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-Palm Beach Lakes, recently praised the Opt Out movement, calling it an act of civil disobedience.

Here's what I think it is:

An extreme response to an extreme situation.

I would not advocate anyone purposefully hold their child out of a state test, but I'm grateful many have. And that's because this state grew so obsessed with testing children, it forgot that the greater goal is teaching children.

The two do not need to be mutually exclusive, but the state's zealousness has changed the methods, the atmosphere and even the ultimate mission of education.

Supporting the Opt Out movement doesn't necessarily mean supporting the elimination of tests. There is nothing wrong with either assessments or accountability.

The problem is assigning so much weight to tests that schools care about little else.

"We all know what is going on in classrooms," Hamilton said. "We're teaching for the assessment instead of assessing what is being taught."

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