Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Opting out of the State Test: You Can Do It.

Earlier this week I shared an opt-out letter from Ceresta Smith, a mother and National Board Certified Educator in the state of Florida, who chose to opt her child out of the state test.  I was particularly interested in learning more about Ceresta’s story because I had been told, and believed, that it was not possible to opt out of the state test in Florida.  Her story is a wake up call for all of us who have felt defeated by the current testing system or believed that our children had no choice, but, to take the test.

After reading my interview with Ceresta, please join our Facebook group:  OPT OUT OF THE STATE TEST:  The National Movement.  We plan to change the current narratives about the importance and necessity of high stakes testing. We are providing support, state by state, to help organize parents and students as they opt out of the state test and develop understandings of alternatives to high stakes testing. 

And now, please read my interview with Ceresta and share it…again and again.

What events and information led you to make the decision to opt your child out of the state test?

My initial wake-up call was when Jeb Bush's A+ Plan and NCLB introduced high stakes testing to Florida.  It was harmful in my opinion to label schools with letter grades.  They became institutions of chronic anxiety instead of institutions for genuine learning.  It worsened when I began working in an African-American low-performing school.   I realized that a great racial divide that resulted in separate and unequal schools had emerged over the years.  African-American students and educators suffered extreme forms of abuse inside their school buildings on a daily basis as they were held under "sanction." By the time RttT and Rick Scott's Students' Success Ac became a reality, my husband and my moral values could not allow for our daughter's participation in what we perceive as a manipulative tool that had very little to do with improving the quality of education. 

How did you opt your child out, and how did the school and/or community respond to this?

We submitted a letter stating that she would not participate in FCAT testing.  We listed the reasons why. We were told by an administrator that there was no such thing as opting out.  We were told that our daughter would have to sit in the testing area for more than four hours while the other children were taking the test.  She would not be able to do anything other than sit there.  I told the administrator that sounds like abuse.  Once I said that, our daughter was able to remain in a non-testing area. 

Some parents worry about the social ramifications for the child when opting out - what was you child's experience?

Our daughter was grilled by on-site administrators that encouraged her to take the test.  When she said she would not because in her opinion it was racist, they agreed to offering her the opportunity and accepting her response without further questioning or prompting.

Florida is considered a "no opt out" state by many people, yet you were able to do it.  Do you feel this could be easily accomplished in other states where parents are told they cannot opt out? If so, how?

Yes, because ultimately, they are protected, as parents, by the 1st and the 14th Amendments of the Federal Constitution.  School administrators will try to intimidate parents due to the federal and state requirements for school site participation in order to receive funding. To date, no school has had to close for lack of test participation.  In contrast, schools that don't meet the letter grade have closed due to their participation.

Many people feel that the consequences of opting out are too punitive to the schools and communities.  How would you respond to this?

Organize and take action - They have to organize and take action on policy makers and the laws that serve to do a community damage as opposed to community building.  We pay taxes, and we have to stake our claim on how that money is appropriated.  We have to file suits, file civil rights complaints, organize town halls, educate the community, push out anti-public education legislators, and most important, protect our children from participating in damaging testing.  I referenced African-Americans and the abuse factor, but I have come to realize that all of America's children are suffering under these abusive and damaging policies.  We literally have to save our children before we lose too many to chronic anxiety, depression, anorexia, dropping-out, massive cheating, and the dumbed-down syndrome.

Finally, if we do indeed drop the state standardized test, what form of testing should we use to best support teachers in assessing the needs of their students?

We need to use national testing in 4th, 8th, and once in high school to inform as to trends and to show a student's performance in relationship to his/her peers.  We have to get back to using the information to design creative and innovative ways to work with all the diversity that comes with students. Never should one assessment be expected to judge the quality of a school, the total capabilities of a student, or the effectiveness of a teacher.  Nor should they be used as a mechanism to destroy public education for the ultimate gain of monetary profit for a few. Instead, we have to accept that the classroom formal and informal assessments that come in a variety of forms are the best indicators for mastery of concepts, processes, and social growth. 


  1. My Valerie Strauss piece on "opting out."

  2. Thank you Peg with a pen, and thank you Tim as well. The time has come for parents and teachers to resist the mental slavery of NCLB high stakes testing mandates. If parents and teachers do not speak up who will?
    Marching to my state capital and the nation's capital,
    Jesse Turner
    Children Are More Than Test Scores.

  3. Very illuminating. I recall the story, but never found any follow up article on the results. Thank you for this information.

  4. If you work in CA and you advocate this way, you can lose your position. I hope you do understand these ramifications.

  5. For clarification, Sarah is talking about teachers.

  6. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I am tweeting. I am looking up the 1st and 14th Amendments and have joined the group. It's time to wake up NY State!!

  7. Peg I was just concerned for you. I super respect the work.

  8. The reason why the so-called authorities don't like to give waivers for those high-stakes tests is because a domino effect will happen.

    All this testing is child abuse.

    Yvonne Siu-Runyan

  9. Tennessee parent resisting high stakes assessment. Bring these stories out of the shadows.