Sunday, May 9, 2021

A school board in Fla. rescinds its opt-out vote


A week ago, the school board in Lee County, Fla., voted to opt out of state tests administered to every third through eighth grader under federal accountability laws. Then on Sept 2, the board voted at a special meeting, 3-2, to rescind that historic decision.

One board member changed her vote from “yes” to “no” after considering some of the possible effects opting out would bring upon the district, its schools, and its students, the News-Press reports.

“I have decided to rescind my vote for a variety of reasons,” board member Mary Fischer was quoted as saying to the audience after the vote. She had originally voted to opt out of the testing. “The vote from August 27 for immediate opt out of all state-mandated, standardized testing has multiple consequences, which are not in the best interest of our students. … The kids have been my life’s work, which is why I am calling for reconsideration.”

Congratulations to the Lee County board for its courage in this matter. I disagree with the ultimate action of opting out of all the testing we hoist on our kids today, but your action has advanced a conversation that needs to take place.

I have always maintained that public bodies, including elected school boards, do not have the right to violate federal law. The correct action would be to change the federal law that’s causing schools to act in ways they know don’t benefit students or advance their education. Even if the board hadn’t rescinded the opt-out vote on its own volition, the action would therefore have been subject to nullification by state authorities, which can’t allow an entire school district to suborn a failure to administer federally mandated testing on the part of its schools.

However, reasons for opposing state-mandated testing abound. Our strongest objection is that they have caused schools to reduce the breadth of what they teach students. In order to increase performance in tested subjects, schools that are in danger of falling short of benchmarks often take away classes in the arts, physical education, foreign language, and so on, which are not tested. By doing so, the curriculum is narrowed, kids don’t like school anymore, they come to school less often or move to other areas, and the school eventually closes.

Then, since the tests are required by federal law, the one known as No Child Left Behind, some educators consider the tests an overreach of federal authority into the classroom, even going a long way back before NCLB introduced students to a whirlwind of tests. One newspaper praised a district in Massachusetts for opting out, since laws are supposed to serve the people, not the other way around.

Another popular argument against the tests is that they don’t give schools enough bang for the buck. Some teachers get a very small amount of information from the tests, especially those who teach students with certain disabilities or English language learners, but as a result of the style of reporting used, it’s not nearly what was promised.

But in general, teachers don’t learn enough about their students’ progress from the test results to bring any improvements to the teaching of individual students, and they should just be left to their own devices. Among those devices would certainly be tests, but not the same as the tests now being used.

In order to get more out of the tests, many states have started attaching high stakes to the tests, consequences based on the test results for students, teachers, and schools. In Florida, the test scores are tied to a teacher’s pay, school funding, and high school graduation.

“I find it the most absurd thing in the world,” a CNN commentator quoted Principal Anna Allanbrook at Public School 146 in Brooklyn, N.Y., as saying. “I don’t know anyone who thinks they’re valid. So the morale is down because teachers are worried that people who don’t really know their work will make decisions about their jobs.”

With three friends, debate the risks and rewards of a government mandating a certain standardized test or using the results for a certain purpose. See Common Core language arts literacy standards SL.11-12.1.B-C for more information.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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