Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says students cannot skip state-required tests, and teachers and schools can be punished for refusing to administer required exams.
Stewart’s letter is a response to questions from senators as they prepare for the upcoming legislative session. Senators wanted to know if students could opt out of state-required exams and how doing so might affect their progress in school.
Stewart says state law allows students to skip required tests for one reason: They have been granted an exemption for medical reasons or disabilities. It’s up to districts to decide when and if students can skip locally required exams, Stewart wrote.
“State law requires students to participate in the state assessment system,” Stewart wrote, “therefore, there is no opt-out clause or process for students to opt out or for parents to opt their children out.”
Any changes to opt-out rules would required the Legislature to pass a law.
But what Stewart’s letter doesn’t address is that there isn't anything in state law preventing parents from opting their children out of exams. And the state allows students to use other test scores as an alternative to state-required assessments.
For instance, a student can substitute an SAT or ACT score — if high enough — for the 10th grade reading exam required to graduate high school. The same goes for the Algebra I exam, also required to graduate high school. Third graders earning the lowest scores on the state reading test have a number of alternatives to avoid being held back from fourth grade.
But Stewart points out in her letter that skipping state tests can have significant consequences. Some end-of-course exams count for 30 percent of a student’s final grade. Skipping tests could lower a student’s grade point average, which could put athletics, Bright Futures college scholarships and class ranking at risk.
Stewart said testing is important for making sure the school system is meeting its goals.
“Florida’s statewide assessment system supports instruction and student learning of the Florida Standards,” Stewart wrote. “Assessments help Floridians determine whether we have equipped our students with the knowledge and skills they need to be ready for careers and college-level coursework.”