Manatee County parents push back on standardized tests

Some parents feel the school district is pressuring their children to take the exams

No mandatory 'End of Course' exams for Pasco students this year (Image 1)

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A Manatee County mother feels her child is being unfairly pressured into taking standardized tests. She said she’s going to keep fighting – until the Florida Standards Assessment Test is gone.

Parents are allowed to opt out of the Florida Standards Assessment Test on behalf of their children. However, some of these parents told 8 On Your Side school officials are intimidating them.

Jeanne Cody never thought twice about standardized tests until her son Ryan started taking them. Ryan struggles in school and becomes incredibly nervous during exams.

“Ryan is not a good test-taker, and these tests have too much weight for him,” Cody said. “He told me a few weeks ago that he knows he’s not the smartest and it kills me that he says that about himself. He shouldn’t be saying that about himself.”

“It breaks my heart for him because I want him to do his best, but his self-esteem and his confidence is so shot,” the mom said.

So Cody decided to opt out of exams this year. She said Florida statues give her the right to do so. But, Cody told News Channel 8 teachers and school officials have strongly urged her and other parents to change their minds.

“They feel pressure from several teachers saying their child will be retained in third grade if they do not take the FSA,” the mom said.

It feels like the school system cares more about testing than students’ well-being, Cody said.

“It is a threat, it is, in a way it is,” she said. “And it really makes the parent question, ‘Well what do I do? I don’t want my child to take the test, but if they don’t, are they going to be retained back in third grade?’”

School officials say parents haven’t been pressured

School officials don’t see it that way. “What the parent and the child communicate and what they choose to do is their parental right,” Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Cynthia Saunders said.

These tests measure a student’s academic growth, Saunders said. If a parent chooses to opt out, a school official will reach out to explain why these tests are administered.

“The principal tends to reach out to them and explain what the process and the rules and regulations are, and they work on a form of communication so parents understand what we’re bound by … I think it might be misconstrued as intimidation,” Saunders said.

The test weighs the heaviest on grade advancement in third grade, she said. But, if a student opts out, Saunders explained, a report card and portfolio are used to determine whether the student should move on to fourth grade.

“(We) are not a private organization. We do work for the Department of Education so it does put the schools in a very delicate balance as making sure that we’re adhering to the rules and regulations but also keeping in mind what the parents are looking for,” she added.

Saunders said she and Superintendent Diana Greene are willing to meet with parents who have concerns.

Parents speak to board members

Some parents talking with school board members. They want the board to understand parents have a right to remove their children from these exams without being pressured. They told News Channel 8 school staff should be better trained on how opting out works.

“They don’t understand it. There’s a lot of research that has to be done and they don’t have the time to do it,” Cody said. “I’m gonna put my foot down and say what he can do, and they’re not gonna tell me what my son’s gonna take anymore. I am doing it. I am in charge.”

Cody said she will not stop until standardized tests are removed. “A lot of the teachers don’t understand our group and they don’t understand we’re not here to hurt the school or the administration. We’re here to send a message to our legislature because these high-stakes tests, they shouldn’t be around.”


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