FSBA: Take A Moral Stand, Drop the Appeals

On August 26, 2016, Judge Karen Gievers released her ruling granting some temporary relief in Rhea vs Florida Department of Education (FLDOE), the “3rd Grade Retention Trial” in Florida. Parents from seven Florida districts challenged the test-based 3rd grade retention rule in Florida when their proficient 3rd graders were retained because they had minimally participated (or Opted Out) of the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA). You can read the ruling here or news reports about the ruling here and here.

Essentially, the courts ruled in favor of the parents, claiming that when the children broke the seal on their test booklets, but answered no questions, they had fulfilled their legal obligation to participate in the FSA. (Learn more about minimally participating here). The judge also ruled that report cards and portfolios CAN be used for promotion decisions. It is expected the FLDOE, along with the districts, will appeal the decision.

As Peter Greene pointed out:

“It doesn’t just say that what the districts and state did was wrong and unconscionable– it clarifies that it was flat out illegal. And it establishes that promoting a child based on a report card is acceptable– and it tells us something about where we are with education reform that it takes a judge’s ruling to establish such a thing.”

In Florida, we needed a judge to rule that a child’s report card has meaning… and, yes, that shows how knee-deep in accountabaloney our state is.

The State’s hunger for test scores and insistence on compliance, revealed during this trial, has been mind-blowing, resulting in testimony calling report cards “meaningless” (more here) and explaining how a child with all Fs and a level 2 FSA could be promoted to 4th grade while a 3rd grade honor roll student, who demonstrated above grade level proficiency for the full 180 day school year but did not have a FSA score, could not (watch here at 2:40:45).

Enough is enough. No one can argue that this is in the best interest of children (except, perhaps, those in the FLDOE’s employ). Of course, this case was never about the best interests of children… this case is really about forcing children to take the state assessment and crushing the ever growing Opt Out movement which threatens the state’s entire test-based accountability system. Third grade retention is a lynchpin of Jeb Bush’s test-and-punish accountability system. The lengths the FLDOE has gone to assure compliance reflects the continued influence of Jeb’s foundations on Florida’s education policy.

The named districts have no one to blame but themselves. Rather than standing up for the professional educators in their employ to make promotion decisions for these students, administrators in these districts appear to have lost their minds trying to please the FLDOE and force the compliance of 3rd graders and their families to this flawed accountability system. Rather than stand together with the Opt Out parents, who are taking a moral stand against the harms that have been heaped upon these children because of the high stakes tied to testing in the name of false accountability, these districts chose to double down on compulsory testing.

NOW would be a good time for the named school boards to drop their appeals and agree to a common sense approach to promotion and retention decisions for 3rd grade, using report cards and authentic, teacher created portfolios, as allowed in Judge Gievers’ decision.

NOW would be a good time for the entire Florida School Boards Association (FSBA) to decide whether they want to use their constitutional authority to “operate, control, and supervise” the public schools within their school districts and take a moral stand to protect children from abusive state accountability practices or if they want to continue to be the enforcer of these flawed practices. Compelling compliance to a flawed, abusive system or commitment protecting a child’s right to a quality education? This is a moral decision. Where do our school boards stand?

For years the FSBA has included “reduce the number of state mandated tests and use the results solely for diagnostic purposes” in its Legislative Agenda. In the past it has called for the overhaul of the accountability system. Over the next several weeks, the Florida School Boards Association and various School Board consortiums and coalitions will be meeting to develop their 2017 Legislative Agendas. We urge them to push for legislative priorities and local policies that will honor common sense over compliance. Please, take a moral stand!

  • Drop the appeal. Stop protecting the FLDOE and start protecting children.
  • Recognize the nonsense of retaining proficient students, who have demonstrated proficiency over 180 days as demonstrated by a report card or portfolio of work.
  • Return promotion and retention decisions back to the teachers and parents who know their children best.
  • Use common sense and follow the letter of the law of fs1008.25(5) to promote children without documented reading deficiencies, regardless of their FSA participation status or score.
  • Reject the State’s Just Read created, multiple mini-test portfolio and demand the use of an authentic teacher created portfolio for use in promotion decision making and Good Cause Exemption.
  • Trust your teachers to assess students and live up to their professional responsibilities as outlined by Florida Educator Accomplished Practices (FEAPs) through State Board of Education Rule 6A-5.065. If teachers have fulfilled these professional responsibilities, then there is no reason to question report cards as an accurate reflection of student performance.
  • Recognize that Judge Giever ruled that “minimally participating” (where a student sits for the test but refuses to answer any questions) fulfills the statutory (FS1008.25(4)(a)) requirement of participation. Students choosing to “Opt Out” or “Minimally Participate” CAN be counted as participating and, therefore, will not negatively affect a school’s 95% participation rate. Districts must create policies and procedures that will not interfere with a student’s ability to minimally participate on state mandated assessments. Districts should be completely transparent with parents about their rights to make these educational decisions for their children.

Most School Board candidates run on a platform of “students first” or “it’s all about the kids.” Now is the time for those school board members to stand up for their campaign promises and stand on the side of students. Let common sense rule over blind compliance to the state. Encourage the remaining named districts to drop the appeals and join together, taking a moral stand on the side of these children.

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