Florida Parents are Learning the Consequences of Opting Out

A group of parents are suing the state of Florida and 14 school districts over a law that calls for students to repeat third grade if they don’t score well on standardized assessments. For years, students who didn’t take the exams have been able to use “good cause exemptions” to move up to fourth grade. This year, however, a number of school districts decided that “students without a Florida Standards Assessment score would not qualify” for the exemptions, requiring reading proficiency scores as part of a portfolio.

The parents involved in the lawsuit say they’re “frustrated by rules they see as harmful to their children” but the Tampa Bay Times article notes that the parents were involved in the opt-out movement, instructing their children to “sign their names to the tests but answer no questions, in order to follow state law requiring participation.”

These parents should be aware that willfully refusing information about their child’s academic progress is actually what’s harmful to their children. Parents are now seeing the consequences of test refusal – and they don’t like it.

Following state law, and deciding not to promote students to the fourth grade without their third grade annual assessment results, is Florida’s decision. And Florida’s decision alone.

Across the country, opt-out proponents fought new statewide assessments, arguing that the tests were too long, too complex, not developmentally appropriate, or not of high-enough quality to accurately measure student progress. The facts have borne out the opposite, and the opt-out movement has largely fizzled. Indeed, in New York where about 20 percent of students opted out the first year the new tests were given, state officials revised exams in response to parent and educator concerns to such an extent that the major newspapers around the state admonished the movement for its continued educational malpractice.

“Tests are critically important,” the New York Daily News editorial board wrote. “Yearly assessments are vital in measuring learning,” said the New York Post. The New York Times joined the chorus as well.

Florida is delivering a similar message. While it’s important for parents to make a decision that is ultimately right for their own child, Florida requires students to achieve a certain level of proficiency to advance. Opting out has consequences, and not just for individual students. These assessments provide valuable feedback that can inform student supports, instructional practices and school resource allocation. When parents keep students out of the end-of-year test, it doesn’t just hurt their child, it hurts all children in their school.

Instead of boycotting testing, parents and educators should be working together to understand the benefits of these assessments and how educators will be using the results to improve classroom instruction for individual students.