There may not be a lot the Jackson County school board will do today to satisfy protesting local teachers and parents concerned about what they consider the massive and unwarranted over-testing of students from the third grade through high school. But the school board members will listen, and organizers say that is just what they want them to do.
“We want them to know just what the teachers are going through,” JCEA president Dave Galloway said at a preparatory meeting Monday night.
The Jackson County Education Association, together with many parents and even some brave teachers, plan to speak out at the school board’s scheduled monthly workshop meeting starting today, Nov. 13, at 4 p.m.
Some parents are considering joining the “opt out” movement which is catching on in downstate Florida where parents are hot about the “testing culture” and “CORE” giving the government, they argue, more control over local schools and their curricula. Some don’t like the FCAT tests and their replacements called “Florida Standards.” Testing is increasing, putting undue burdens on teachers, they say, and many teachings of the Common Core program, which is being called the same thing as Florida Standards, are wrong. “We’ve gone from teaching to testing,” Galloway said, “and as a teacher, if my scores are too low for three years in a row, the state could revoke my teaching certificate. I don’t mind accountability; I just want the testing practices to make sense!”
“Opting out or boycotting high-stakes testing (by students at the behest of their parents) is a way to take back control of our schools,” according to a hand out at a teacher-parent gathering Monday night at the First Baptist Church conference room in Marianna. The meeting was led by Kelly Ziglar, who has three children in the Jackson County public school system, and Galloway. “We are concerned about our children,” she told the gathering of about two dozen individuals. “We are concerned about the stress they are put through with all these tests. My fifth grader feels they are one of the reasons he sometimes doesn’t want to go to school.”
Mrs. Ziglar and Galloway said a key to this grassroots movement is to get the parents involved. “We want to come together and support each other to get rid of these tests,” she said. “Parents, teachers and the school board all need to work together.”
It surprised a few that both Jackson County Schools Superintendent Steve Benton and Assistant Superintendent Cheryl McDaniel attended the Monday meeting. They were supportive of and sympathetic to the organizers, but they asserted that there was nothing the school board could do for them right away. “The more the merrier,” Benton said when a teacher asked him if it was okay to carry signs outside the school board today to raise public awareness. “And I promise that no teacher will be disciplined for speaking out on this subject. I’ve always said that an unhappy teacher can’t teach.”
However, McDaniel was clear: “Their hands are tied,” she said. “The school board is bound by state law. A resolution can be issued but they can’t change testing mandated by the Department of Education.” Benton and McDaniel said they couldn’t predict the impact of students refusing to take the tests and Benton worried aloud that “Opting out could end up hurting the child.”
Benton said efforts should be made now to approach the state Legislature which is already preparing for the new session beginning in January. “The parents have to get united and get in touch with the Legislature,” he said. The first-term superintendent indicated that he felt Democrat Charlie Crist may have been more receptive to change had he been elected governor, but Republican Rick Scott was reelected to his second term on Nov. 4. Sometimes it seems all they care about is charter schools, Benton said, and that involves money. It was former Gov. Jeb Bush that facilitated the FCAT system with the school grades as part of it, as his brother George W. Bush, who was president at the time, enacted the “No Child Left Behind” federal testing programs. The Common Core standards are more closely identified with the current Obama administration.
The “opt out” movement is organized; they are not waiting for the Legislature to act. The handout at the Monday meeting continued: “As this movement grows and as more parents step up and seek information from the schools and districts about opting their children out of unnecessary testing, you should prepare for the standard answer of ‘That’s not allowed.’ They are correct in that as parents and students, you are saying it isn’t ‘allowed.’ To be clear, you are not asking permission to refuse the test. You are advising them that you are refusing the test. We have found that in many cases where a student may be denied because of a ‘no score,’ it is because the school or district is mistakenly assigning or assuming a failing grade of 1. If a student provides no data, there can be no score. They are assigned a ‘score’ of NR2. It is not a 0 or an F. It is no score and it cannot be used to determine either promotion or placement.
“In these cases, the school must use alternative assessments, preferably a teacher-selected portfolio for third grade, or for high school, a concordant score for the ACT or SAT. A transcript, report card or teacher recommendations would help to bolster a parent’s appeal, which is provided in state statutes. We advise everyone, when dealing with schools, or school districts, when faced with any consequences for anything for their child; a parent does not have to simply accept that decree. Parents should always ask for the district’s written policy and state statute that spells out that consequence clearly for the specific infraction and for that to be provided on district letterhead.”
At Monday’s meeting, it was discussed that the impact of opting out could be diminished unless a large number of students participated. Also, on another subject, one teacher pointed out the difficulty of adhering to “the new way of teaching math” and asked if teachers could make any changes. Mrs. Ziglar added that she at times has been unable to communicate mathematically with one of her children, and help them with problems, because of the way math is currently taught. She was reminded by McDaniel and Benton that teachers are unable to change the curricula mandated by the state DOE.
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