This interview was first shared at Peggy Robertson’s blog, Peg with Pen
The following is an interview with 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. Ceresta is also one of the founders of United Opt Out National.
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.