Education

Anti-testing group to meet in Fort Lauderdale

Want to join the growing movement of anti-testing advocates?

There’s a conference for you: United Opt Out, a group that advocates for fewer tests with fewer consequences, is holding its national conference Friday through Sunday at the Broward Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale.

The conference brings national attention to Florida, a state opponents say has led the way in high-stakes testing and is now at the forefront of the backlash against it.

“We’re fed up with it and we’re tired of hearing politicians and business people and those who are not connected to children in classrooms dictating what goes on,” said Rosemarie Jensen, a United Opt Out administrator and the parent of two children in Broward County public schools.

Organizers promise practical information for everyone: from the experienced activist to the curious parents who wants to learn more.

Workshops will arm novices with information about how parents can “refuse the tests” — in other words, how their kids can avoid taking exams. Veterans will draw up national blueprints for demonstrations, new legislation and getting sympathetic candidates elected to positions of power.

“We need to build a broader, stronger movement of parents, students, teachers, administrators, school board members and community activists to pressure policy makers to back off on test misuse and overuse,” said Bob Schaeffer , public education director for FairTest , an anti-testing group.

The conference is in its fourth year, but the cause is getting more attention than ever.

Florida became the epicenter of the anti-testing pushback after the Lee County school district voted in August not to administer state-required tests. Though the vote was promptly rescinded, it brought national attention. Since then, counties across Florida have held public hearings that have turned into venting sessions. School boards have pushed for change. The state Legislature has held pre-session hearings.

“Lee County kind of set a precedent for folks to understand that not only educators, not only parents, but collective communities are frustrated with over-testing,” said Ceresta Smith, an administrator for United Opt Out and a Miami-Dade County teacher.

People who oppose standardized tests do so for many reasons. There are those who protest the money corporations make on these exams. Teachers say the tests stifle instruction. Parents say they stress kids out. Others say they punishes minority students, who tend to under-perform.

In Florida, the consequences of failing can be significant. Students can be held back a grade, teachers can lose their jobs and schools can be forced to close.

“I just wish people would realize that all of us have something at stake,” Smith said. “All our money is being wasted on reforms that are not really serving our community the way it should be in public education.”

For more information, or to register for the conference, visit www.unitedoptout.com.

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