With the Lee County School Board's decision Wednesday to "opt out" of statewide assessment testing, personnel of the school district were left scrambling to formulate a plan Thursday morning.
"The plan in stone is to stop the high stake testing," boardmember Don Armstrong, who voted in favor of the measure, said Thursday morning. "This is about education and about giving our students the best education. When these tests don't accurately measure how the kids are doing, that is an issue."
He said the school board's vote to "opt out of high stake testing," gave the superintendent direction of how to formulate a plan to stop the testing in the best way possible.
"Dr. Graham is meeting with staff now and is working on a plan," he said Thursday morning. "We set that in motion. She (Graham) has to formulate the plan to execute it. It's her job."
Board Member Mary Fischer, who also voted in favor, said she felt the decision to "opt out" was a statement.
"I have asked the superintendent to bring us a recommendation with some clarity of exactly what opting out of standard mandated testing means and what those tests are," she said. "We will be approving a new strategic plan that will give us a road map. We will still be teaching the standard. The superintendent will bring forward a plan for assessment."
Steve Teuber, who is running against Armstrong, said his heart is very heavy due to the decision three of the five board members made Wednesday night.
In addition to Armstrong and Fischer, Tom Scott voted for the motion.
"While all of this is happening we are spending money we didn't have," he said. "Now we are taking all these resources going into reaction mode. What is happening to education and instruction right now? What do you think the advantageous effect is happening in Lee County? Those are the types of things these three didn't think about."
Teuber also said by the board taking action Wednesday night, no alternative plan was provided.
"What option is the state going to have?" he asked. "What happens if the state doesn't give an answer for six months? The potential consequences for this move are humongous. I would not have done it this way."
Teuber said there is nothing to support from the action taken at the board meeting.
"We don't have a plan to get behind to support," he said. "We don't know what to do next until the state responds."
Teuber said although the teachers will continue to teach the children of Lee County, he questioned how long before that has an impact on them.
"You don't know what you are going to test," he said. "You are going to end up losing a portion of our kids' education to figure it out. I don't think it has to be that way. I think it is a tipping point. It is going to make a decision."
Incoming board member Pam LaRivere said she would have liked to have seen the board vote on each of the pieces separately because there was a blanket statement made for opting out of all mandated test taking. She said if the tests are looked at individually, it would have provided an opportunity to look at the reasons believed they were not necessary pieces.
"We have to have a plan. We need to provide something to the state," she said. "Now the district is going to have to work very quickly to come up with a plan."
According to information released by the Lee County School District, there are numerous potential effects of the district opting out of statewide assessments.
Some of the effects on students include: graduation requirements cannot be completed due to Florida Statutes requiring students passing 10th grade FAT, or ELA Assessment, and algebra 1 end of course exam; course completion credit may not be obtained for end of course exams, which is 30 percent of their grade; third grade retention could not be appropriately administered because it is based on statewide standardized assessment and Lee County could not comply with Opportunity Scholarships.
The decision also affects employees, schools, the school district and funding.
Instructional personnel and school administrator evaluations would be affected because their performances are based on student growth, which is assessed by statewide assessments. Performance pay would also be affected, as well as funding because schools would not receive recognition dollars for letter grade improvements.
As far as schools, incomplete school grades would be issued because 95 percent of students have to participate in statewide assessments, according to information provided by the school district. Charter schools would also feel the effects of opting out of testing. The school district is required to provide test administration services and cost payments for the required student assessments.
Lee County could not be an "academically high performing district" and state funds, discretionary grant funds and discretionary lottery funds would be withheld.
Teuber said the school board could have addressed the problem of excessive testing in a different manner due to there being three different issues: standardized testing, Common Core and excessive testing.
Teuber said 60 percent of "excessive testing" is done on the county level, which he believes is what everyone is complaining about.
As far as Common Core, he said there are four cars to the train: the first is standards, the second is how you teach the standards, the third is how you evaluate what is taught and the final is how the teachers are evaluated on the first three.
Teuber said the standards are the same standards that Florida has had for the past five years. He said there is only a 7 percent material difference between FCAT and Common Core.
Last year, Teuber said, a bill was passed in the state of Florida that provided control over all curriculums at a district level. He said the school board should have formed committees that looked into every piece of curriculum to see what is acceptable. Once that step is taken, it narrows down the curriculum and produces your very own Lee County curriculum, he said.
"Now you have a test," Teuber said. "Now you go to the state and say we are not doing it because we are not teaching your Common Core crap. That's when you take the battle to them. That is a good eight months to a year down the road."
Armstrong said although the board has had discussion after discussion about high stake testing, they were not getting anywhere.
"It is time to take action," he said. "This doesn't mean education stops in the county. All we are doing is stopping the state mandated testing. These kids still have to go to school. They still have a curriculum . . . still have to learn how to read, write, add, multiple, subtract, and divide. The only difference is you are not going to be tested to death."
Fischer said the board had a look at the tests and a paring down of the number of tests given, which collects a lot of data that is not necessarily used to measure the growth of students and their continued skill building.
The amount of money spent district wide for the state testing also raises some concerns for Armstrong. He said, conservatively, $11.2 million is spent annually on testing.
Armstrong said high stake testing has unnecessary stress and pressure and takes away from active teaching.
"Educating them does not mean giving them a test for two months straight," he said.
Armstrong said it was time to take a stance against high stake testing and take their education system back from Tallahassee.
"Remember the Boston Tea Party?" he asked. "They threw all the tea into the river. We got the Caloosahatchee River down here. I think that is a good place for the Common Core and high stake testing. I would rather ship it back to Tallahassee and say thanks, but no thanks."
Armstrong said there still needs to be some type of testing for assessment. He believes that can be accomplished through a beginning of the year, middle of the year and end of year exam. By having all three exams, Armstrong said it would gage the students at the beginning of the year, how much they have obtained in the middle of the year and the progress they have made at the end of the year.
Fischer agrees that the school district needs assessment. She said she thinks the district needs to use tests that are norm, validated and reliable and provide them with good information.
"We will move forward and our kids will be involved in learning activities and hopefully our teachers will feel freer to challenge the curriculum," she said.