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Florida Presses On With In-Person Standardized Testing, And Some Parents Are Concerned

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The Florida Department of Education says FSA tests must be held in-person, not remotely.

A Polk County School Board member urges parents to research "opting out" this year, as a petition to waive the tests garners more than 14,000 signatures.

The Florida Department of Education has decided that the annual standardized tests in math, science and English will go ahead this spring, and be held in-person only, leaving some parents concerned about how remote learners will manage that safely as coronavirus infections continue to mount.

Kelly Spezzano, a Polk County mother of three, says parents are still juggling the added stress of the pandemic, along with difficulties that children have faced in remote learning, and concerns about the health and well-being of their extended families.

“It doesn't seem appropriate with what we had dealt with this year, and last to be expecting our students to perform at their very best,” Spezzano says.

Spezzano was pregnant with her third child when the coronavirus pandemic began. She says her kindergartener managed all right when classes went remote in the spring, but her sixth-grader began to struggle with online classes in the fall.

She eventually sent them back to in-person classes in January, and says her oldest son is doing "much better, face to face." Still, she worries about the risk of coronavirus infection.

"Every time my phone rings, and I see that it's the school calling to say that there's another positive case it makes me cringe because we still have a newborn at home. And it's just, it's nerve wracking,” she says.

Spezzano started a petition back in June, asking the Department of Education to waive the annual standardized tests this school year, like they did last year. More than 14,000 people have signed it.

But the petition did not sway the Florida Department of Education, which announced earlier this month that the spring FSA tests will go ahead, saying they “ensure equity and directly inform curriculum and instruction for Florida’s millions of at-risk students.”

Polk County School Board member Sarah Fortney disagrees.

“These tests do not show diagnostic progress. They are a money-making tool,” Fortney says.

The US Department of Education issued a letter earlier this month, saying that states could apply for a waiver of the school accountability requirements linked to the tests, and offered flexibility in timing and the potential for remote testing.

"Certainly, we do not believe that if there are places where students are unable to attend school safely in person because of the pandemic that they should be brought into school buildings for the sole purpose of taking a test," said the letter, signed by Ian Rosenblum of the US DOE.

The Florida Department of Education has said the tests must be conducted in-person, and did not respond to a request for comment on the US Department of Education's offer of flexibility in that regard.

Earlier in February, state education officials said they would give schools extra time to give the tests. Last year, the tests were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Fortney urges parents who are concerned to look into the Florida Opt-Out Network to learn about ways to avoid having their children tested.

“Rise up," she says. "Refuse to take the test.”

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