‘He is not going to take the test:’ Parents plan to opt-out of in-person state testing

Florida Department of Education forcing school districts to offer assessments in-person

Angie Giurtino's 6th-grade son who is learning remotely (Copyright 2021 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Many upset Orange County parents say they plan to opt-out of state testing after Superintendent Barbara Jenkins announced all schools will move forward with administering state assessments, including the FSA, and must do so in-person, according to an order from the Florida Department of Education.

“We are required to provide for all students to participate in state assessments and the Florida Department of Education is moving forward with requirements for in-person testing,” Jenkins said in a school board meeting Tuesday night. “It’s a very unusual year, and we are hoping for some flexibility and further direction but at this point according to the statutes, participation is mandatory.”

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Many of the parents of the 43% of students still in virtual learning with Orange County Schools say their kids will not be stepping inside a classroom for any assessment.

“My kids aren’t going to school for this,” said Orange County mom Angie Giurtino, who has a 6th grader at Legacy Middle School. “I’m very upset and we have kept them home all year and I am high risk.”

“His teachers know that he is not going to take the test,” added mom Michelle McConnaughhay, who has a 4th-grade son. “I never thought we would be against doing a test. I don’t think it’s a safe environment for the school, kids, teachers to get everyone at school on that one day for a test.”

For mom, Joni Ferguson, whose 5th grader has also been home all year, she is still unsure about sending him to school for state assessments. She said she is not sure what the repercussions would be if he opt-ed out.

“If I opt him out now, does that harm him now? 5 years from now? When he goes to graduate? I don’t know what that means yet,” Ferguson said. “My husband and I are really going to be evaluating do we want to send him on campus to do that.”

According to Orange County School Board Member Angie Gallo, she is anticipating parents opt-ing out.

“It’s stressful and we have been under so much stress already, it’s not fair,” Gallo said.

Usually, the state assessments including the FSAs and EOCs determine whether a child has to be retained, held back a school year or replaced in remediation. Those state assessment scores are also tied to teacher pay and bonuses and determines whether your child’s school is an A-school or an F-school.

“25% of our schools will fall into F-status if we would test now based on preliminary numbers up to this point,” Gallo added. “We can’t do that. We can’t do that to students, staff. It is not fair.”

She was part of a decision by the Orange County School Board last night to send a letter to the Department of Education asking to take away any accountability or penalties tied to the state assessments this year. There are also currently two bills, one in the House and Senate, making their way through the state legislature to do so. However, there is still no word if that will happen.

“We will do anything within our ability to make sure they remain safe when they take a test and if they chose not to take a test, we will do anything in the power that they won’t have punitive measures,” Gallo said.

Dr. Jenkins addressing the consequences at the school board meeting Tuesday night.

“It is still true that no one can force a parent who believes there is a concern, but we can’t say it’s optional because the statute does not support that,” Jenkins said. “So there is a fairly good chance there will be some communication that makes that clear that we are in a period of grace and compassion and I am hopeful.”

Because this is a statewide directive from the Department of Education, News 6 reached out to all Central Florida School Districts on how they are proceeding with state assessments:

SEMINOLE COUNTY SCHOOLS

“Our stance is that we’d prefer the state NOT issue School Letter Grades (in reference to grading individual schools A-thru-F grades and district Letter Grades) due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. The results won’t be reflective of a normal school year, especially one where many teachers were doing a split hybrid model of Face-2-Face students and Remote students simultaneously and in addition to the many remote and virtual learners we’ve had this school year. We are FOR using the state assessments for accountability purposes in terms of student progress-monitoring so the data can be used to track where our students are at to assist us in filling the gaps and now if students need to accelerate and/or remediate in any areas.”

VOLUSIA COUNTY SCHOOLS

“‘The Florida Statewide Assessments required by state and federal law are more critical than ever so that educators and parents can measure progress and determine what additional services and supports students need to be successful,’ said VCS Superintendent Dr. Scott Fritz.

A recent Executive Order issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis extends the spring state testing windows for Florida State Assessments by two weeks to allow for further flexibility for makeups, if needed.

With that extension, test results will be released by the state later than originally scheduled. Grade 3 ELA assessment results will now be available no later than June 30, and results of the remaining state assessments will be released by July 31.

The Florida Department of Education has not made allowances for statewide assessments to be taken remotely, even by students enrolled in a virtual learning option. VCS respects the decisions of Volusia Live and Volusia Online Learning parents who do not feel safe bringing their child in for face-to-face testing.

However, it is important to note that students must still meet assessment requirements for graduation, promotion, and program decisions. This is especially important for third-grade students who must demonstrate reading proficiency to be promoted to fourth grade and high school students working toward meeting graduation requirements. See graduation requirements here: https://www.vcsedu.org/school-counseling/graduation-requirements.”

FLAGLER COUNTY SCHOOLS

“Flagler, like all Florida school districts, will administer all state-based assessments as required by both Federal (ESSA) and Florida statutes. Scores will be used, in tandem with other data, to verify student learning outcomes, in addition to other usage requirements as set by both Federal (ESSA) and Florida statutes.

By statute, students must pass the Grade 10 ELA state assessment and Algebra 1 EOC state assessment before graduating. There are alternative pathways to graduation as well, depending on specific scenarios, as outlined in those same statutes. Grade 3 students must earn a level 2 or higher on the Grade 3 ELA state assessment before promotion to grade 4 is given. There are alternate pathways to promotion, depending on specific scenarios.

Each student must participate in the statewide, standardized assessment program as required by Florida statute.

Flagler Schools is working diligently to make the test administrations as safe as possible by adhering to CDC, state, and county guidelines. We have an extended window this year so we can accommodate small groups of students as appropriate. Flagler Schools is committed to providing a safe, secure, and high-quality education to our students.”

MARION COUNTY SCHOOLS

“DOE has told all school districts we MUST administer state testing. Students MUST return to campus to take these tests. How scores will be used remains in the air at this point, including for school grading purposes. Sorry I cannot provide more definitive answers; we simply do not have that information from the Department of Education as of today.”

This story will be updated as News 6 receives more responses from Central Florida school districts.


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