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School Board reconsiders testing opt out

Fischer changes mind; new vote taken overturning last week’ decision

September 3, 2014
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

After reconsidering it over the long weekend, Lee County School Board Member Mary Fischer had a change of heart over her decision for the school district to historically opt out of state standardized testing.

So, in a hastily called Tuesday morning meeting at the Lee County School district offices, in front of an angry crowd, the school board reversed its decision from Aug. 27 by a 3-2 margin.

This doesn't mean the issue is finished, Far from it, according to Superintendent of School Dr. Nancy Graham or the school board.

Article Photos


Superintendent Dr. Nancy Graham at Tuesday’s meeting.

Those who supported Wednesday's vote booed down this decision as vociferously as they cheered after Wednesday's meeting, and made their thoughts known during open comment before the vote and afterward.

"I'm disappointed. We were winning the war, and then we raised the white flag," said Linda Cohen. "The nation was looking at us, the surrounding counties were, and this is what happened. They did not listen to us, and we're failing, again. We're creating more sheeple."

They said the dialogue that has been started has more than gotten the ball rolling for change. They also said the sudden decision wasn't in the best interest of the students since there was no concrete plan in place.

"We need a plan and a timeline in the best interests of the students. The journey begins with a single step," Fischer said. "The immediate opt out had consequences not in the best interests of the district or the community at large."

Among them were the possible loss of state funding, sanctions from the state which would have begun with the first tests in two weeks, and the perception of a no-confidence vote in the leadership positions at Lee County schools.

The Florida School Boards Association also said that students who didn't take the standardized tests wouldn't meet the requirements for a high school diploma and miss the opportunity to earn college credit.

Fischer said he felt good about her decision to reconsider.

"The feeling in my gut was that we made the right decision and that we will move forward to take a look at the testing," Fischer said. "We will minimize testing, looking at what we do here and push hard on the legislature."

Fischer warned this would be a huge fight, with big dollars involved from those who administer the tests.

"With all this energy and all these people and our colleagues, we can achieve systemic change," Fischer said.

There were those who supported Fischer who spoke, as senior Trace Mitchell, a senior at Estero High School, who said reversing a hasty decision was best for everyone.

"You put students at risk for a difference in opinion. Thank you for rethinking your vote," Mitchell said.

Also in favor was Cape Coral City Councilmember Derrick Donnell, a school administrator, who said lesson plans would be affected severely and that there are three prongs to the testing equation.

"If you make as decision now, it impacts the operation of schools. They separated excessive testing from state testing." Donnell said. "There are three scenarios: state testing, high-stakes testing and excessive testing. Sixty percent of testing is locally controlled and the board is looking to adjust that."

Mostly, it was a sea of red with people making chattering gestures with their hands to those who spoke in favor, and giving the thumbs down for those who spoke against.

In what has been a hot-button issue for months for parents, teachers, and students, the Lee County School Board voted last week not to administer tests tied to the Common Core academic standards or any end-of-course exams. Lee County was the first in the state to make such a decision.

At that time, Graham warned such a move could do more harm than good. Today, she was more pleased by the result so the district can work on alternatives with help from the state.

"This is a complicated issue, so now we can work on it in a more orderly fashion, without rushing to create an alternative," Graham said. "This issue is bigger than Lee County. This is a statewide issue. We cannot fix this in isolation. We want something done to eliminate high stakes testing."

School Board member Don Armstrong said he was disappointed, but wouldn't stop the fight, saying he would put the motion up again at the next board meeting.

"It's for the right cause. It's for the kids. The motion will be more detailed and I asked those who were here today to come to that one," Armstrong said. "We can't just stop because it derailed. Let's put it back on the tracks and move going."



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