• 9 Investigates: Group works to let students opt out of standardized tests

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    ORLANDO, Fla. - You must take the test: that is the message from the Florida Department of Education.

    In a six-page letter to state senators, Florida Department of Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says students must take the statewide standardized tests or state-required local assessments.

    The letter is in response to a series of questions posed to the commissioner by the senators after parents across the state began encouraging their kids to “opt out” of the tests.  “Opting out” means kids log onto the test, answer no questions and then log off. Groups advocating “opt out” say it doesn’t count against the school or the child, but rather requires the students to be judged by the body of their classwork, not a single test.

    “If students were to opt out, students and parents would not know whether students have mastered the subject content in their courses, which is a basic process of learning,” Stewart wrote in her letter to the senators. “In addition there are several risks for a student who does not participate in other required assessments.”

    “There is no way to force a student to take the test except through verbal intimidation and coercion,” says Cindy Hamilton, of Opt Out Orlando.

    Hamilton says her group has grown by at least a dozen members since the letter was first published this week. Hamilton says the state may compel districts and teachers to administer the tests, however, if students choose not to take the test there is no way to force them.

    In the letter, Stewart says students who fail to take end-of-course assessments may have their high school graduation, athletic and extracurricular eligibility, or scholarship opportunities impacted. The commissioner also says students may lose benefits, such as local recognition or promotion from the third to the fourth grade.  The letter states that “state law requires students to participate in the state assessment system; therefore there is no opt out clause or process for students to opt out or for parents to opt their children out.”

    Opt out groups say students can still advance grade levels and graduate without taking standardized tests.   

    The state says it does not track the number of kids who opt out of testing.  Nine Investigates reached out to Orange County Public Schools for comment, but was told the district does not have a statement on the process.

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