To parents who have calmed a child anxious about the FCAT, or teachers who feel they have been unfairly evaluated, the Lee County School Board's vote last week to opt out of the state's assessment system may seem like a victory. But for all the understandable anger about high-stakes testing, the School Board's action was irresponsible. It would be more constructive for school boards to push within the system for change and for lawmakers to listen.
News reports of Wednesday night's meeting in Fort Myers showed School Board members in re-election campaigns; applause and boos from red-shirted audience members agitating for change; and a bureaucrat's unheeded warnings. The board voted 3-2 to opt out of the state's mandated state testing system, which this year will move from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test to an untested series of exams aligned with the new Florida Standards, the state's version of Common Core State Standards.
Superintendent Nancy Graham warned board members they were in unprecedented territory. Students may not be allowed by the Florida Board of Education to qualify for graduation if they don't pass state tests. The district could lose access to state and federal money linked to the state assessment system. There also are questions about whether Lee County graduates would qualify for the state's Bright Futures scholarships and what would happen to transportation dollars that flow from the state.
But the frustration of parents, teachers and School Board members is understandable. For 15 years, Republican-led Tallahassee has increasingly and irresponsibly raised the stakes of standardized tests even as it shortchanged public school funding. The state tests help determine if third-graders are promoted, if students graduate and if teachers get a raise or keep their job. And now the state is irresponsibly switching to a new assessment system without adequate field-testing. While lawmakers reluctantly agreed this spring to suspend consequences for one year because of the new tests, the episode further eroded public confidence.
On Friday, one of the Lee County board members who voted for the opt out was having second thoughts and was expected to call for a new vote Tuesday. That's more responsible. Now that the county has gotten Tallahassee's attention, its School Board and parents, along with those in every other county, should roll up their sleeves and press legislators to fix this mess.