Frustrated South Florida families opting out of state exams

Sun Sentinel - March 4, 2016

By Brittany Shammas

Testing has begun in Florida schools, but some students are pushing away the exams after doing nothing more than breaking the seal and writing down their names.

Their parents are part of a national movement that rejects high-stakes testing – even though their children could face repercussions that include being held back a grade. They say they're fed up with constant test preparation for too-tough Common Core Standards.

"I've written to senators in Tallahassee and to the district, and it falls on deaf ears," said Sharon Owen, whose Palm Beach County fourth-grader refused the test. "Everybody just carries on. So do I want to put my kids out on the line refusing the test? No, I don't, but I feel I don't have any other option."

No one tracks test refusals in Florida – and the "opt out" movement itself is organized mostly through social media groups – so it's difficult to know how many people are involved. State data shows more than 20,000 tests were not scored last year because too few questions were answered. Although that's just 1.3 percent of all students tested, it's three times higher than in the previous year.

Department of Education officials say the figure includes students who couldn't finish the Florida Standards Assessment for other reasons – it doesn't necessarily mean that each of those students chose not to participate.

Opt-out parents say they expect more kids to sit out the test this year, pointing to the climbing memberships of their social media groups.