Florida’s Testing Obsession: Threats, Lies, and the Emotional Toll.

The end of March put testing season in Florida into full swing and that means Stress with a capital “S.” Many of Florida parents have dealt with the stresses associated with their own children’s state testing. We tell them “it’s only a test” or “do your best.” Some children cope better than others. Those with severe anxiety are finding it difficult to see mental health professionals who, by report, have been inundated with cases of test and school anxiety.

As an advocate for the elimination of high stakes testing, I hear stories from around the state. Many (but not all) of these stories are related to test refusal (the so called “Opt Out or “Minimal Participation). The stories may be intense, bizarre, sometimes heart-breaking. For me, it is like witnessing a horrible car accident; once you’ve seen it, it is difficult to get it out of your mind.

I share these stories here to show the unbelievable extent that some adults will go to ensure the collection of test data and compliance from very small children, seemingly without regard for simple common decency.  Most of these stories involve children under the age of ten (the older kids haven’t tested much yet), but teachers and administrators are being threatened as well.  Many of the identifiers are left off of stories for privacy concerns.

We are told the Department of Education has been holding conference calls with districts directing much of this “activity.” This is how your tax dollars are being spent to assure “accountability” in our public schools. Florida should be ashamed:

-Read (here and here) about how Florida insists a severely disabled teen, Maddie Drew, unable to speak with multiple medical issues, must take the State assessment, against her parent’s wishes.

-The mother of a third grade special needs child requested her child “minimally participate” (i.e. break the test seal and answer no questions). The school insisted the child, who has ADHD and an IEP, sit and stare for the entire 5.5 hours per subject test because “that is the extended time per the IEP.”

-A third grader reports that, during testing, the girl behind her complained she wasn’t feeling well.  That child was encouraged to continue testing until she vomitted all over the floor and was sent to the nurse’s office. The rest of the test takers were expected to continue testing, as usual, while the proctor cleaned up the mess with “paper towels and her shoe.” The child believes her friend was brought back from the nurse’s office to complete testing that afternoon.

-Teachers have been told they will lose their license unless they force children, whose parents have requested they opt out, to test. You can read more about threats to students and teachers here.

-Also in the news (read it here), students in Hernando County report bullying and threats of retention for minimally participating in testing.

-A Hospital Home Bound  teacher’s job and license have been threatened because parents of an severely ill child were declining to have their student tested.

-In one county, the Assistant Superintendent lectured a group of 8 year olds, whose parents had requested test refusal, threatening the children that they would ALL be retained if they didn’t take the test.

-When a fifth grader, whose parents had notified the school, in advance,  of their daughter’s intent to Opt Out, presented to class to bravely “sit and stare” during her assessment, there was a candy on each students’ desk except for hers. (In comparison to the other stories, this may seem inconsequential, but to that little girl, who idolized her teacher, this was completely unnecessary and nothing short of mental abuse.)

-District staffers have reported having their jobs threatened for not reporting the off hours social media activity of staff to the FLDOE (presumably regarding opt out), which makes me wonder how many districts ARE reporting their staff’s off hour social media activity to the state?

-Another group of 3rd graders was harassed into answering just 8 questions after the school learned they would be minimally participating, effectively forcing each child to fail the test. Later, parents were able to get those tests invalidated.

-A 12 year old presented to the ER “last night” for 4 hours with chest pains. Tests showed nothing was wrong physically…however she revealed that the teacher of her gifted class told her that, without FSA scores, she would be in all remediation classes next year.

-A 3rd grade twin, coping with the recent loss of her grandmother and doing poorly in school during the turmoil, is currently being medicated for anxiety over fears that her twin sister will be promoted to 4th grade and she will be retained in third.

-High School students have been informed they will not graduate, they will be forced into remediation and they will not be allowed into advanced classes (AP and Honors) unless they fully participate in testing.

And, finally, the most ridiculous story of all (read more here and here). I’ll let Peter Greene tell it:

Elizabeth Shea of Pinellas County is the mother of a nine-year-old autistic son. The student has an IEP and a service dog to help him cope with the stress and difficulty that come with being a nine-year-old autistic boy. Yes, service dogs for autistic folks is a thing, and kind of a genius thing at that. But because the student in question is nine years old, the law says that the dog must be accompanied by its certified handler, which in this case is Shea herself.

Shea’s story should have been simple, because she reports doing everything that sense would tell you needs to be done.

We had arranged months ago through IEP meetings, supplying all paperwork, ID, records, that the dog would report with him for any testing, both with the school district and the FLVA where he is a student.

And yet, when Shea reported to the testing site, the folks in charge simply couldn’t wrap their head around the situation. The dog has to stay with the child. The handler has to stay with the dog. But the handler may not be in the room with the child while he is taking the test. It took a vice-principal and a test proctor to assert and re-assert that the child had to be alone in the room with the test.

Even when Shea and her husband proposed that their son simply break the seal and sign his name, satisfying Florida’s beyond-silly rule that every student must “participate” in the test in some manner, the officials were adamant that nobody could be in the room with this nine year old boy (who was by this point was crying and hitting himself in the face) even to commit an act that would “invalidate” the child’s test results.

Mr. Greene continues that none of this is a surprise for Florida, whose devotion to testing is nothing short of legendary. But, really, even to Floridians, this boggles the mind.

The devotion to the test is astonishing. Officials were not concerned about the Americans with Disabilities Act. They were not concerned about the child’s IEP. They were not concerned with the child’s well-being. And most bizarrely, they were not even concerned with getting legitimate results from the test, for surely they couldn’t have imagined that a child so agitated under such conditions would produce test results that meant anything remotely authentic. So they weren’t even interested in the integrity of the test– just bound and determined that the child would go through the “proper” test motions in the “proper” manner.

He concludes that, despite your own feelings about any possible legitimate use of standardized testing, this is “nuts.” We agree.

This is a devotion to the BS Test completely divorced from any belief in its validity or usefulness, a fetishism separated from any functional quality of the test itself. This is idol worship, and an idol worship that sets the Test above all else. It’s not just educationally unsound and abusive of children– it’s nuts!

We have completed FOUR days of FSA testing. For each of these stories, there are likely dozens more. Florida spends 100s of millions of dollars each year on testing. In Florida, testing season has just begun.

One last, very important, thing…

The incidents described above are the stories that were shared with me between March 25 and 28, 2016. They all pertain to this year’s testing season. Another story was shared this week that seems almost too difficult to tell.  The events described below took place a few years back but this mom is finally ready to confront the reality of what testing has done to her family, to her child.  She asks that her story be shared. We became aware of this story this week and it’s important that we listen.  It could happen to any of us.

“A” (as written by his mom)

I had no idea, a few years back, the amount of mental anguish that the high stakes testing was causing students and teachers. I did not know because I did not need to know. Unfortunately, I had to learn and I had no choice, no say and no support. Thankfully, some things have changed.

It was after my son, A, was in the third grade and he was administered the FCAT. He failed by one point. He took the mandated summer reading program and had an 86% average. He was well on his way to achieving academic success in the program. He tested again and again he failed by one point. Two days later I walked into my son’s room and saw him hanged from his bunk bed post. The belt tight around his neck. The cold blank stare in his eyes and his blue tinged lips. He made the conscience decision, at nine years old? to end his life. The outcome is the most important part of the story but what will the outcome prove? The damage was done, was I too late and why didn’t I see this coming? I had no idea the damage that high stakes testing has caused.

I saved A that day, physically, but mentally he was already gone. There was no academic research conducted to express the difference between the student who passed by one point or the student who failed by one point. Except, the student who passed did not try to end his life.

High stakes testing is harming our children and that is a chance no one should bargain with. Please share A’s story. If this doesn’t start to cause a change for the better, then we have no hope and no forgiveness. How did our education system fail so many children and families? How has our education system lost sight of what is best for our children? I thought that we were all on the same team with all the interests being first and foremost about what is best for our children? And lastly, since when did our school districts stop being partners with parents and educators? Aren’t we all on the same team?

For A, for all our kids, we can do better. We must do better. Enough is definitely enough.

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4 thoughts on “Florida’s Testing Obsession: Threats, Lies, and the Emotional Toll.

  1. “In the heart of a child, one moment …. can last forever.”

    About this testing …

    There is no virtue in making children so brave that they might withstand the idiocy of adults. Nor is there any virtue in lying to children so as to protect adult ridiculousness. And when adults trip over their own commandments and reason away the subtle wounding of children … then they themselves have committed a great sin.

    Childhood is an extraordinary moment. It has its own sanctity because it is the maker of first memories … and we make big deals of firsts in our lives. And first memories should never be ugly. Not ever.

    But what has become of us? Why have we arrived at this moment when children become fair game in an adult controversy? Instinct tells us never to place children in the middle of a muddle. But here we are … hearing unbelieving tales of adult unfairness that seem such the antithesis of what is expected from the guardians of our children.

    Life is a long frustration. The great beauty of maturity is that we learn to keep our cool and to react only to the most insistent frustrations. Adults learn to separate the important from the unimportant … and it prevents us from the nasty human inclination to settle on easy scapegoats … and then to punish the weakest and most vulnerable.

    Scapegoats are born of frustrations adults cannot control … and we have loads of frustration surrounding this wretched reform. But frustration is never a green light to exercise a disturbing dominance over the smallest of the small. If that is the first impulse of an adult, then they are in a queer orbit.

    Children cut off from pizza parties and ice cream treats because their parents exercised their right of refusal? Little humans in little desks made to sit and stare for hours … in of all places … a school? Children confronted by some towering goliath … insisting that they revoke their parents’ own wishes? What the hell is going on here?

    Where is the wisdom in gluing children to desks for hours as they squirm their way through some asinine educational gauntlet that has no real purpose other than to pay homage to some testing god? Who thought that a good idea?

    This is a mess that cannot be unmessed. When will we start over … and get this straight?

    Is this how children should ever be treated? Are there not school campaigns to disarm bullies … and to champion kindness? Have those champions vanished? Were those just paper heroics? Empty nonsense? I sense adult ugliness seeping through a holy firewall behind which childhood is protected. It seems too many are now comfortable liars … even with children. And worse, some have become hypocrites.

    There is never an excuse to scar a child. And if you’re in the child business … that sort of action condemns you to a special sort of hell.

    For children, school is a majestic cathedral. A near shrine where every minute should be crammed with as much wonder as a minute might hold. To disturb that atmosphere is to violate the inviolate,

    A school has no place or space for anyone unable to plug into their memory bank for recollections of their own childhood. If one cannot stay linked with the memories of their own past, perhaps they shouldn’t be in the memory-making business at all.

    When one’s memory of childhood evaporates, so does one’s empathy. And that is a signal to move on.

    “Childhood is a short season.” Give it its due.

    Denis Ian

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  2. Reblogged this on Exceptional Delaware and commented:
    This is happening in Delaware too parents. Except for the high school part since Governor Markell and Secretary Godowsky made that not-so-wise decision to replace Smarter Balanced for high school juniors with the Common Core realigned SAT…

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  3. WOW! Just WOW. My heart aches for Andrew and his family and I thank his mom from the bottom of my heart for being brave enough to share this story. I am thankful his mom arrived when she did. I am thankful to Accountabaloney for sharing these stories. I am thankful for the thousands of parents across the state in every county who are stepping up and taking a stand. I am horrified at the effects the high stakes testing is having on our kids. I am horrified that some 8 and 9 year old CHILDREN are even contemplating suicide as an alternative to being retained. I am horrified and sickened that adults, whether elected, appointed or hired, are the cause of so much anguish to children. It sickens to me to think about all the stories like these that are not being told. It sickens me beyond belief that children – CHILDREN are having to deal with the extreme stress and anxiety being placed on them. I am sickened that so many children (too many to count) despise school and are being subjected to harsh disciplines under the guise of Student Code of Conduct. I am grateful to 2 special people at Accountabaloney for bringing these stories and many more to us – the readers. Thank you Accountabaloney for this extremely important article.

    Liked by 1 person

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