Nine-year-old testing critic gets big hand from Hernando School Board

Published March 20, 2015

BROOKSVILLE — Teachers have been complaining about the new Florida Standards Assessment. Parents have weighed in. So has the Legislature.

But on Tuesday, the Hernando County School Board heard from someone who has actually sat at a computer to take the test — Brooksville Elementary School fourth-grader, Sydney Smoot.

Her passionate and articulate address, which in 2 minutes hit most of the anti-FSA talking points, was punctuated by ad-libbed hand gestures and capped with a standing ovation from the audience and the board.

Sydney, 9, went after standardized testing in general:

"This test defines me as a number," she said, holding up an index finger for emphasis. "One test defines me as either a failure or a success."

She questioned the merit of the exam that has been subjected to little vetting:

"Why am I being forced to take a test that hasn't even been tested on students in Florida?"

And she had a particular objection that brought all her other ones to a head.

Before taking the reading section of the FSA last week, she was required to sign a form that prohibited her from talking about its contents, even to her parents.

Jennifer Smoot, her mother, said her daughter came home upset because she felt as though this form kept her from sharing the burden of her testing anxieties with her parents.

"My daughter talks to me about everything," said Smoot, 38. "She was very upset."

The state put this requirement into place several years ago to prevent students from revealing the contents of the tests to students who hadn't taken it yet, said district spokesman Eric Williams.

It's not meant to keep kids from talking to their parents, just from sharing specific questions, he said.

Jennifers Smoot said she understands this, but, "I still find it very troubling."

She encouraged her daughter to write down her feelings about the tests and, yes, she said, she did a little editing.

"She had some help from mom," she said.

But the presentation that brought down the house was all Sydney, she said.

"If you know my daughter, you'd know she's very outspoken."

Contact Dan DeWitt at; follow @ddewitttimes.