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Lee County Becomes First District to Opt Out of Standardized Tests

August 27, 2014 - 6:00pm

Lee County made a big move against a significant aspect of Florida's education system Wednesday evening, when it became the first district in the state to opt out of standardized testing.

The decision, said the School Board, would be effective immediately.

Hundreds filled the Lee County School Board meeting room to voice their thoughts and concerns on testing, which has been the subject of intense criticism in recent months.

The 3-2 decision to break away from the state's standardized testing movement brought both cheers and hesitation from parents and district officials.

Before the board reached its decision, Lee Schools Superintendent Nancy Graham warned against the repercussions of opting out of tests, which have played a significant role in Florida's education system for the last 16 years.

"This will hurt children. There is no way around it," Graham said. "I am gravely concerned about the decision that was made tonight, and I'll try to make sense of this."

The School Board had toyed with the idea at a meeting earlier this month and vowed to bring the idea to a vote.

Tensions ran high as those more hesitant on opting out expressed concern over the decision.

The News Press reported board member Jeanne Dozier was met with fierce opposition from the audience after she requested to put a hold on the decision until a more concrete plan was decided.

Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, also advocated for making sure the district had a plan before making any quick decisions.

"I'm all about bold, innovative thinking. But at the same time, I don't want us to do something without a plan in place," she said. "Testing is high stakes, life is high stakes."

The audience booed Fitzenhagen's comments.

Standardized testing is required under Florida law. The pertinent Florida statute reads,"Participation in the assessment program is mandatory for all school districts."

But the repercussions of Lee County's decision to opt out of testing are not yet clear. It's possible the district could lose state funding as part of its refusal to participate in testing -- and if the district doesn't participate in the statewide assessment, it would also be unable to be a part of the state's "A" to "F" grading system.

To opponents of high-stakes testing, Wednesday's decision came as a sign their efforts were headed in the right direction.

"I am eternally grateful for the many groups and individuals who made this happen," Chris Quackenbush of Stop Common Core FL wrote. "We are hoping other school districts in Florida and across the nation will be part of a chain of dominos that will show we can stand up to the powerful machine standing against us and our children."

Sunshine State News contacted the Florida Department of Education to discuss the decision, but they had not returned calls as of the release of this story.

Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen via email atallison@sunshinestatenews.comor follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen.

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