Florida: This Child Says the Tests Are Pointless


My kid made Ravitch’s blog. Opting Out Out Loud! #SpeakUp

Originally posted on Diane Ravitch's blog:

Bonnie Cunard Margolin is a blogger and parent activist in Florida. Her daughter did not take the state and local tests, and her mom is very proud of her.

Margolin writes:

This year, I have opted my 6th grade daughter out of all district and state testing. So, yesterday and today, while her classmates were taking the district test/ practice FSA writing assessment, she wrote an essay, on her own, instead. Here it is.
Julianne M. Cunard

18 September 2015
Testing: I Can Do the Math.
Learning is not just about taking a test. It is about understanding a lesson, not about sitting at a desk for hours, failing as you go. If you wanted to educate children, why is there an FSA, FCAT, FAIR, PARCC, LSAT, MCAT? What do all of these words mean to you? Is standardized testing effective in education? I can tell you…

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Get Your Copy Today : A Must Read ! Meh. When A Teacher Shrugs – Seeking Ms. Sandy Series, Volume 1 by Margo Lynne


The Testing Games are about to begin … Get your copy today : Meh. When a Teacher Shrugs. My first novel …

Originally posted on Margo Lynne - Author:

Purchase your copy today ! Download for $2.99 on Amazon.

Thalia knew she was going to fail. She always failed these state tests. She dreaded sitting down in front of them for years now. She hated how her teachers talked about them all the time. She especially hated the look of disappointment on her mom’s face when her test scores came in.

More than anything, she hated knowing that people thought she was dumb. Thalia knew she wasn’t dumb. But, she always got herself so worked up about taking the test, her whole life consumed with studying and stressing about it that, by the time test day came rolling around, she was so stressed out, she just didn’t care any more.

‘Meh. Screw the test.’ That’s what she told herself. She even tweeted it that very morning.

Thalia always wished the tests would just disappear. She never imagined her…

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The Story of a Teacher Who Finally Gets Fed Up with the Testing and Just Walks Away … ‘ Meh. When A Teacher Shrugs #WheresMsSandy ?

I am excited to announce my first book, Meh. When A Teacher Shrugs.  This is the story of two students who must learn to cope when their favorite teacher gets fed up with testing and walks off the job. Follow their journey as they face the ultimate test of their integrity.

If you haven’t had a chance to purchase a copy of Meh. When A Teacher Shrugs,  check out my Margo Lynne author page to download a copy or purchase a paperback! I even give a sneak peak into the book ! Be sure to leave your email to join my book club for blog posts, great offers and freebies !

Download on Amazon here :


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Meh. When A Teacher Shrugs, Seeking Ms. Sandy, Book 1 – by Margo Lynne

Midnight in the Opt Out Movement: The Hanging Tree – Testing Games – Part 5


“Are you, are you, coming to the tree?”

Chilling. These words, from Jennifer Lawrence’s rebel ballad in The Hunger Games, have burned themselves deeply into this school teacher’s psyche. But why?

You may remember the scene: While running from the Capitol forces, Lawrence’s character, Katniss, stops and sits alongside a river. She sings these lyrics among the mockingjays, harmonizing her voice to the whistle of the birds. The song is glorious. The message is bone chilling.

Watch and listen here:

What does the song represent? And, why oh why, does this song roll, over and over, in my mind, as I walk up and down the aisles of my classroom, watching my students dissolve into their exam booklets, during the long hours as I administer the required state tests? Why does this melody bring such a sense of sadness and hope, all at once?

In The Testing Games that we call ‘American Public Education’, what is our hanging tree?


“Are you, are you? Coming to the tree?”

Many have attempted to decipher the meaning of this question in the ballad. One Huff Post contributing writer, Julie Wherry, describes: “This is the singer beckoning the audience to return not necessarily to a physical place, but rather a state of mind and remembrance of a purpose (to be free) and of who the “real enemy” is.”

Now, that description makes sense to me. The ballad is a beckoning: a call to return to a state of mind, the hanging tree. So, when Katniss repeats, “Are you, are you, coming to the tree,” she is asking, ‘Are you willing to stand up and fight with me, no matter the cost? Are you willing to be brave?’

Are you coming to the tree? I am.

In fact, I would say, I have gone as far as taking out a pocket knife and engraving my name, conspicuously, on the trunk of that tree. The life I have been living, lately, certainly feels like the life of one running to her hanging tree. Let me explain.

I am a public school teacher in Florida. There are a few things you can’t say here, by Governor decree. Climate Change is one.

See, I said it. I am a rebel. Carve that into my tree.

Another phrase highly discouraged happens to involve the same initials – CC. No not Climate Change, but it is something just as controversial these days:  Common Core. See. I did it again.  Saying those two words in Florida equal a big ‘no no’. Our state leaders have, in fact, in an act of all great deception, I mean wisdom, re-branded those two words. Now, we educators are to use the phrase: Florida Standards.

Works for me – I just call it the F word. You can carve that into my tree, too.

Honestly, though, those words are not my fear. The initials I have carved into my hanging tree – the words that will not only save me, but doom me, involve the letter O.

Two O’s, to be specific … Opt Out.

I know. I know. I am climbing up my hanging tree to say this, but I feel the need to return to what I believe. I believe we should end the toxic overuse of high stakes testing in our public schools. I believe we should end all contracts with testing corporations, such as Panem, I mean Pearson, and spend the billions of dollars on our children instead. I believe we should spend that money on needed programs such as art integration, physical education, diversity and cultural awareness, occupational mentorships, language immersion programs … anything but tests. I believe in authentic education. I believe in local control. I believe the local schools belong to each and every parent. I believe local schools are essential to the success of our country. I believe this is why I went into teaching twenty five years ago and I believe it is time to return to my core.

And, yes, despite the consequences of my admitting this out loud, I believe in the right to opt out of high stakes testing.

There, I said it. Sound the alarm. Burn down the tree.


“Strange things did happen here …”

The meaning of this particular song lyric has also raised many questions. Huff Post Wherry continues: “This is acknowledgment of what humans do to oppress, control, and exploit each other and the atrocities that result when people fight against this oppression for their freedom.”

I agree. It is a strange acknowledgement when you discover the means some will take to reach their ends, especially when their ends, such as privatizing public schools, are so profitable.

But, this line of the song sparks even greater meaning to me as a parent. As a parent, especially, of a child who chose to opt out of Florida’s FSA test this year, I have seen many strange things. I have seen letters full of threats straight from our FL Commssioner. I have seen communities torn apart over the fight for every dollar attached to the testing. I have seen organizations of individuals pit against one another. I have seen brother turn against brother, in the ultimate betrayal of solidarity.

I have seen the tree cut down and chopped into bits.

So, when in the song, Katniss sings of strange things happening, I have to wonder? Could the revolution be those strange things? After all, like the people of the many districts of Panem who have been living with the horror of their Hunger Games for quite awhile, our American public has suffered under harmful education reforms for decades. Just as the Capitol has worked hard to maintain control of the people, and has been very successful in that undertaking, leaders like Jeb Bush and Arne Duncan have made the act of oppressing parents, and students, an art form. Like in The Hunger Games, the idea of revolting, or refusing, just never seemed plausible to the people … until now.

Many would agree, the opt out movement among parents, teachers, and students is, certainly, a strange situation to imagine. Who could ever imagine that American parents would have to face legal threats, and down right intimidation, to exercise their freedom to refuse a standardized test for their child? That concept just seems preposterous, doesn’t it? Yet, that is exactly the strange situation, wherein we lie.

After years and years of No Child Left Behind rolled into The Race to the Top,  the American public finally believes they can put an end to the testing insanity. Getting control of their local public schools once again seems plausible. And, while education reformers are intent on shaping students into diligent test takers, ones who will compete endlessly, and blindly, to achieve a higher score and label for life, parents are more intent on protecting their children from these destructive policies than ever before.

Parents know the truth: to force students to compete, knowing their school’s funding, their teacher’s job, and their community’s real estate values depend on their ability to pick the best answer from the better answer on a multiple choice test, is abuse.

It is their personal, unforgivable, hanging tree.

So, in a sense, Katniss is correct: “No stranger would it be / If we met at midnight at the hanging tree.”

Considering the situation, it is not strange, at all, that parents, teachers, students, administrators, and researchers would come together to fight against high stakes testing. Most agree that these high stakes tests, administered repeatedly to students in our public schools, are a serious concern. It is also not strange to consider that, when attacked, individually or as a whole, parents, teachers and others, will join together to fight back against this testing machine.

Like a call to the hanging tree, those opposed to the destruction of public education by means of testing and curriculum mandates, will rally together, win or lose, for the children.

“Where I told you to run, so we’d both be free.”

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Read the full series  here –> The Testing Games

The Testing Games Part 4 : Fire is Catching

Welcome back to the Testing Games. This week, in our comparison of current education reform policies to the popular, Hunger Games series, we will dive deep into the heart of the games: The Burn Scene.

The idea came from my ten year old. Driving to school, recently, I turned to my daughter, a self proclaimed, Hunger Games expert, and asked:

“What is your favorite scene in the Hunger Games?”

She responded, “When Katniss says, ‘If we burn, you burn with us.’”

I was speechless. I can not deny: She is absolutely right. That is the pivotal scene of the story. It is the scene in which Katniss, during a fight with the Capitol, uses a bow and arrow to shoot down their hovercrafts. As she retreats back and discovers the Capitol army has bombed a hospital full of children, she turns, defiantly, and yells, “Fire is catching. If we burn, you burn with us.”

It is definitely a powerful scene and begs for comparison in our Testing Games analogies. And,  as I must admit, the timing has never been more perfect. You see, we are full blown right in the middle of our Testing Games here in Florida. In fact, my own ten year old daughter recently entered the testing arena:  The Florida Standards Assessment (Common Core) State Test.

No doubt, she was well prepared for the test, having sat through a year of test prep, practice,  and training. Not to mention, she is in fifth grade. In America, that means she has been playing these Testing Games for years. Thus, she is well aware of the consequences of losing the game. Believe her when she says, the struggle is real.

This year, however, was different than previous years. This year, she broke the seal of the test, put down her pencil, and refused to answer any questions. Simply put, my daughter opted out.

Let me say, upfront, the choice to opt out was her own. While only ten years old, she has been accompanying me to conferences, rallies, and school board meetings for years. Being the daughter of a teacher, and an outspoken teacher at that, she has heard me holler, over and over, about the disadvantages of investing our resources into these high stakes tests. She knows the validity of the test items are being called into question by teachers, parents, and even elected officials.

Make no mistake, my daughter may be young, but she knows. She recognizes that too much time is spent preparing for these state tests and she is tired of it. She knows the tests are not true indicators of her abilities. She has learned how much the tests cost and she wishes we would spend that money on field trips, art supplies, and musical instruments. She may only be ten, but she has an opinion and no qualms about speaking up.

So, despite her fear of upsetting her teachers, and despite her worries of being ostracized by other children, she chose to commit her first act of civil disobedience.

In Florida, her unanswered test is designated as a ‘NR2’. Essentially, she participated in the test, as statutes require, but she gave no response. No data will be collected on her. No penalties for low scores will be sanctioned. Her electives will not be stripped from her next year based on her scores. She will not be pulled out of drama rehearsals for test prep tutoring and she will not miss band practice to take practice tests. She opted out. Period.

While the choice was hers, the decision to allow her to opt out was mine. It was not a decision that I made quickly or without serious consideration. You see, being a teacher, not to mention a teacher who works right down the hall in the same school as her, I know the costs of opting out on a public school. I know the corporate testing industry has lobbied our legislature for years and, as such, has been successful in getting laws passed that tie school funding to these test scores. I know, as an educator, that our teacher evaluations, salaries, and contracts are tied to these scores. Naturally, I was concerned about what the consequences of her actions would be. I didn’t want my daughter suffering under this oppressive testing regime but I also did not want to cause personal or professional harm to her teachers. I certainly did not want to hurt our school funding.

Consequently, I scoured my state statutes, connected with Opt Out groups online, and met with school officials. I learned a NR2 score is a possibility. I discovered rules allowed my daughter to sit down for the test, break the seal, sit and stare through the duration of the exam, but not answer any questions. I learned a NR2 score does not penalize the teacher, student, or school. I knew I had the answer I needed.

However, as more and more parents became aware of the fact that they do, actually, have a choice to use concordant scores or portfolios, our state leaders began pushing back. Twice in the last two months, our school district, via our state Dept of Ed, sent a letter home stating students are required to take the test. Parents were told, repeatedly, that they do not have the right to opt their children out of these state tests, despite clear proof to the contrary.

The frustration is overwhelming, especially as round 2 of testing is quickly approaching. It just makes me want to scream to our leaders: “Do you realize just how hard parents have worked to figure out how to do this without hurting teachers or schools?”

Truly, that is the point. Parents love their public schools and teachers. They just don’t love the manner in which high stakes testing has completely taken over the curriculum. Parents are taking a stand, but they are being careful to do so in a manner that will not backfire on public schools.

They are trying to start a fire without anyone getting burnt.

Seriously, think about it. Think of the consequences to our schools if the opt out parents simply did not care. Imagine the hit to funding if all these parents just kept their children home, absent, on test days. Since funding is tied specifically to attendance during testing, the damage would be serious.

Or worse, imagine if the opt out parents just withdrew their students from public schools altogether. The hit to funding would be catastrophic and certainly would lead to massive school closures. The thought is unthinkable.

I feel the frustration of the parents, especially as I am one of those parents. I feel my daughter’s frustration. It is infuriating to hear our leaders defend this obsession with high stakes testing.

Case in point, just last week, our FL Senate passed a new accountability bill, holding schools and teachers harmless from these test scores, but not our kids.

Not our kids?

It just makes me want to scream. Why would our Senators admit they are concerned with the validity of the tests and take steps to protect schools and teachers, but not our children?

Do our leaders truly want to push parents to the point of no return? I cringe, thinking of the day when parents finally reach their tipping point. If the dystopian Hunger Games are meant as a warning, I sure hope our leaders take note.

Fire is catching …

Read the full series  here –> The Testing Games

The Catch 22 of College and Career Ready in FL : Foreign Language Classes

In a discussion about education on one of our BAT pages today, a parent brought up an important point:

In Florida, when a student scores a 2 or below (out of 4) on the state tests (nearly 70 percent score that low), then that student must take an additional reading and or math class. In high school, that fact makes it impossible for a student to take foreign language (most high schools only offer language classes to advanced students, or the student has no time left in their schedule).

Thus, a student can not apply to state colleges, ie UF, UCF, USF or FSU, because they do not have the prerequisite language. Students end up seeking out for-profit universities. Or, students are forced to take foreign language classes online with Fl Virtual Schools –  jeb’s baby. Hence, the same reformers pushing these laws for testing are the same ones profiting.

How does any of this make students College and Career Ready ????

Call me crazy … but, doesn’t it seem like they planned it this way?

The Testing Games Part 3: Hope or Fear?

Welcome back to The Testing Games, where the odds are never in your favor! In our last episode, we met the comical, hypocritical teacher, Effie Trinket. Today, we take a look at the leader of this game, Master Testing Coordinator, King of Rigor and Keeper of the Games, President Snow:

President Snow: Seneca… why do you think we have a winner?

Seneca Crane: [frowns] What do you mean?

President Snow: I mean, why do we have a winner? I mean, if we just wanted to intimidate the districts, why not round up twenty-four of them at random and execute them all at once? Be a lot faster.

[Seneca just stares, confused]

President Snow: Hope.

Seneca Crane: Hope?

President Snow: Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear.

Hope, he says, is stronger than fear, but fear is what he utilizes to control the masses. Using propaganda eerily effectively, President Snow, of the blockbuster, The Hunger Games, not only convinces parents to send their children off to slaughter, he somehow has them convinced that their country depends on it. He is a master manipulator, brainwashing parents into believing that competition, at any cost, is good.

Don’t be fooled.

Education experts have long questioned the role of competition in our education system. In our dog eat dog society, it may seem necessary to maintain this value system throughout school, but the opposite is true. Students grow and learn better in an environment of cooperation, not competition.

Consider this analysis:

“One of the primary ways oppression in any and all of its varieties operates is when the dominant group, in this case adults, pit members of minoritized groups, in this case youth, against one another through competition for gold stars and grades, for supposedly scarce resources, for attention, love, and affection, for financial and career success, and, in the metaphor of The Hunger Games, for life itself.”

Pitting children against one another has become the expected status quo in schools today. Even our US President entitled his education plan, The Race to the Top, a program that fosters competition right in its name. US students take countless, standardized, high stakes tests, repeatedly throughout the school year, competing for scores that will give them the competitive edge in life, so they are told. More importantly, like in The Hunger Games, how well the children compete determines how much funding the community will receive. In our Race to the Top, the reward for high test scores is money.

Yes, it is true, in our national Testing Games, public school students must compete to earn the federal funds necessary to run our schools.

“The similarities between standardized testing and The Hunger Games abound. Maybe we don’t stop our lives to watch our kids bubble in answers at their desks for two epic weeks of reading passages and math problems. But it’s undeniable that the nation anxiously awaits the results of those trials (Ross, 2012).”

Many parents and teachers agree this system is immoral. But, even further, we must ask: Is this competition truly effective?  Does it foster learning and growth? Many experts in education argue that the answer is no. I agree. Consider this source:

“In terms of education, however, philosopher and author Alfie Kohn calls for a radical rethinking of the competitive structure on which our educational system is based, away from what he calls the “I win, therefore, you lose” viewpoint.” 

I agree. This environment of competition is toxic. After decades in the classroom, I am fully sold on the idea that collaboration between students is the best way to teach. From Kagan to CRISS strategies, teaching students to work in groups, helping kids to communicate effectively, and modeling how to share ideas with respect, is primary for teachers who want to lead students in a healthy, collaborative classroom environment.

As Kohn describes, we need to move students away from this concept of “I win, therefore, you lose.” Much like in any organization, our goal should be to lead students to “Win, Win, Win” solutions.

Getting to the win,  however, is impossible in today’s high stakes, testing environment. Embedded in, both, The Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind, is the fact that not every student can win. Inherent in The Testing Games is the concept that hope is a promise, but success for all students is impossible. As in wars and fights, one must win, and so one must lose.

But, public education is not meant to be a war and our children should not have to fight each other to succeed. Students do not need to be pit against one another to have hope.

Kohn refers to competition as a “disease,” an “addiction,” a “poison” on which we are raised, something trained and not born into us. He argues that students and workers can enjoy, learn, and produce more with other people rather than against them, and he advocates for cooperative education”

Cooperative education is the answer. Competition is not the path we want to force our children down. Competition does not foster hope for all … it fosters despair. Rather than encouraging students to reach their highest potential, educators are left trying to squash their dreams into bubbled shaped circles on tests.

Parents and educators need to change the game:

In other words, we need to dismantle the walls constructed by individuals, institutions, and societies that stand only for the purpose of maintaining power and control over others.”


Read the full series  here –> The Testing GamesScreenshot 2015-01-17 at 7.38.10 AM

Dismantle the walls of testing. Know your options.

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