Lee County Schools Becomes First District To Opt-Out of State-Mandated Testing

Lee County becomes first Florida district to opt-out of state-mandated standardized testing. (Photo by Ashley Lopez)

Lee County becomes first Florida district to opt-out of state-mandated standardized testing. (Photo by Ashley Lopez)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

This week, the Lee County School board voted 3-2 to opt out of state-mandated standardized testing.  The district became the first in the state, and possibly the country, to do so.

The move, however, did not include a plan on what to do next. So, questions surrounding whether or not the district will lose funding or whether students can obtain a standard high school diploma remain up in the air. Because teacher pay is tied to performances on standardized testing, this also creates questions about whether this decision could also hurt teachers.

There had been chatter that Lee County officials—as well as other school districts—where mulling the idea of opting out of state testing.

StateImpact Florida reported last week that “a handful of Florida districts are talking about skipping state-required tests this year, including the new Florida Standards Assessment replacing most of the FCAT.”

Last week, Palm Beach County school board members said they wanted to send a message to state leaders by skipping the new exam. Earlier this month, Lee County school board members said they wanted to study the idea.

But, in a shocking vote, Lee County moved forward with their plan.

According to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, via a press release:

Lee County, Florida, home to 87,000 students, yesterday became the first public school district in the country to “opt out” of standardized testing mandates. An overflow crowd of more than 300 parents, students, teachers and community activists cheered on the Lee School Board as it voted to support Chairman Tom Scott’s “Move that the Board opt out of state-mandated testing beginning immediately for the benefit of administrators, teachers and most importantly students, whose educational growth has not been enhanced as a result of such testing.” Lee County is the nation’s 33rd largest school district.

There had been talk during the meeting to possibly postpone opting out until there was a plan in place. However, a rowdy crowd and members of the school board were against to waiting it out.

The majority of the crowd was made up of parents and political activists—mostly organized anti-Common Core groups. Lee County is a solidly-red district, so conservative movements like the anti-Common Core movement get a lot of traction there. There were also teachers and individuals against high-stakes testing in the crowd.

In fact, most speakers and lawmakers in the room agreed that standardized testing was out of control, however, others wanted to wait until they had a concrete plan for what would follow the opt-out vote.

However, the board moved forward with its plan. As a result, a lot of matters were unsettled.

According to The News-Press in Fort Myers,

The meeting adjourned without discussion regarding what test – if any – will now be used in place of the state tests. The board members did not address if the decision will include charter schools.

Keith Martin, the board’s attorney, was not sure that there were any “immediate, clear” consequences to the action. He said it was possible the Governor could remove the school board members from their positions of power.

“Go ahead and remove me from my position,” Armstrong said. “I’m a plumber. I deal with worse things every day.”

The audience booed the dissenting board members who begged Armstrong, Scott and Fischer to table the decision until concrete plans could be made.

“You do need to have a plan in place,” said Jeanne Dozier, who was phoned into the meeting. “Obviously this is an issue that is near and dear to our hearts. But I think the audience would agree a plan is an absolute must.”

Now, the question is: how will the state respond?

When asked, Gov. Rick Scott said he and his staff are looking into what the impact might be.

The state’s Department of Education hasn’t released any information about what it plans to do. However, the DOE has released a long list of potential consequences, which include many things that could affect teachers and students.

Lee County’s school superintendent Nancy Graham held a press conference the day after the vote. She said she was shocked and was working on a plan, but most of what is ahead of her is “uncharted territory.”

Graham also said she was unsure what the state was going to do. She said in her conversations with state officials it sounded like they didn’t know what they are going to do either. Graham said that, like herself, state officials “were not expecting this.”

Other county officials have said they are looking to Lee County and waiting to see what happens in the next few weeks, while they decide whether or not opting-out is a good idea for their respective school districts.