As standardized testing increasingly entrenches itself in our public schools, one county is daring to fight back against the status quo. Florida’s Lee County school district has voted to stop all of the bureaucratic testing.
At more than 85,000 students, Lee County is the 37th largest school district in America. Hundreds of parents showed up at the most recent school board meeting to call for an end to the state mandated standardized tests. By the end of the meeting, the majority of the board’s five members agreed that its schools should stop participating in the tests.
Is the decision legal? Will it hold? At this point, it’s hard to say what the consequences of ignoring all tests required by the state of Florida will be. However, it will definitely be interesting to watch how things pan out for a district that goes rogue.
“Sometimes it takes an act of civil disobedience to move forward,” said Don Armstrong, a school board member who voted to approve the ban. “We cannot allow the fear to hold us back.”
Although fellow member Mary Fischer was skeptical of the change, she ultimately cast the deciding vote in the 3-2 decision, perhaps motivated in part by the overwhelming community support. “If this is our window of opportunity, I hope we make the best of it,” she said.
Kathleen Morgan and Jeanne Dozier, the dissenting school board members, said that they would prefer to devise a more thought-out plan to oppose standardized testing rather than banning it outright. Surely, there’s also an argument that can be made that a certain smaller amount of standardized testing is reasonable in order to demonstrate accountability.
County Superintendent Nancy Graham also voiced her opposition to the ban, continuing to do so even after the vote. She worries about the potential repercussions of skipping testing because of how many things are connected to the scores. Along with the school district’s lawyer, she outlined some of the likely negative outcomes, including:
- Schools could lose their accreditation
- Graduating students may not receive their diplomas
- Classes students take that normally require testing might no longer count
- Schools would not receive the usual state funds determined by test scores
- Teachers might not receive raises since evaluations are based 50% on test performance
Some also wondered whether Governor Rick Scott might even remove the Lee County school board members from office. Armstrong, for one, did not seem frightened by the prospect. “I’m a plumber, I deal with worse things every day,” he quipped.
On the one hand, it might be irresponsible to allow Lee County students and teachers to become the potential victims of this act of civil disobedience. On the other hand, someone has to stand up against incessant testing, so this may be a risk worth taking.
The state of Florida will have to act next. Given how education policy makers have latched on to an all-testing-all-the-time approach, Lee County would be wise to expect a fight. As a growing number of studies suggest standardized tests are pretty meaningless, the government may finally be forced to prove why all this testing is necessary in the first place.