One of the largest school districts in the nation voted last week to reverse a decision opting out of all state-required tests, including the federally funded Common Core standards and assessments.

“Assessments,” says @lindseymburke, “should be developed at the most local level possible.”

More than 85,000 students attend school in Florida’s Lee County, which includes the cities of Fort Myers and Cape Coral. So when the school board voted August 27 to exit standardized testing, it drew national attention.

It also prompted Lee County Superintendent Nancy Graham to issue a grave warning, calling for the board to reverse the decision: “This will hurt children. There is no way around it.”


Parents, along with organizations concerned with the current status of testing practices, have advocated against the volume of standardized tests given to children, arguing they’ve “exploded out of control.”

Opponents say the result is a narrowing of curriculum and an inadequate assessment of students’ achievements.

>>> Commentary: Teacher Support of Common Core Drops Dramatically

But the district’s goal of opting out, some state officials warned, could cause more harm than good. One concern is that the decision was made without an alternative plan to hold Lee County’s school systems accountable.

Lindsey M. Burke, The Heritage Foundation’s Will Skillman fellow in education, said assessments—whether summative or formative—are a “critical component” of having transparency in public education, for both parents and taxpayers.

“Assessments, however, should be developed at the most local level possible,” she said.

The Role of Common Core

Another point of contention among parents in Lee County is that millions of dollars in federal and state funding are being tied to the implementation of Common Core, essentially forcing local districts to adopt the national education standards.

“While the decision for the district to opt-out of testing would have had consequences for access to state funding absent Common Core, the district’s decision to opt out—and then return back to—the national tests, shows the extent to which federal intervention is creating problems and confusion for local school districts,” Burke noted.

Common Core standards have increasingly come under fire by states and local authorities attempting to reclaim their education decision-making authority. A total of 46 states originally agreed to sign on to the national standards, but as implementation of those standards and assessments has progressed, they have come under public scrutiny, leading Indiana, Louisiana, South Carolina and Oklahoma to withdraw from Common Core.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (Photo: Stephen M. Dowell/MCT/Newscom)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (Photo: Stephen M. Dowell/MCT/Newscom)

In 2013, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, issued an executive order limiting the Sunshine State’s involvement with the Common Core national assessments, citing concerns over federal overreach.

“Florida, like many states, has an interconnected system of state assessments, standards, and teacher evaluation,” said Burke. “Adoption of Common Core, largely incentivized with billions from the Obama administration and waivers from the onerous provisions of No Child Left Behind, means that each of those components is impacted by this latest federal overreach.”

Why the Reversal?

Last Tuesday, Lee County’s school board voted 3-2 in favor of resuming the standardized tests tied to Common Core.

Matthew Ladner, senior adviser of policy and research for the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which is run by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, supports the board’s reversal.

Ladner said if local districts want to receive federal and state education dollars, schools must abide by their guidelines, which include administering standardized tests:

The Lee County district took tens of millions of dollars from the federal government and hundreds of millions from Florida state taxpayers. Those millions come with both federal and state legal requirements. School district officials can and do participate in the democratic process to determine what those requirements should be, but they do not get to pick and choose which ones they will follow.

Raquel Regalado, a Lee County school board member, said the federal and state requirements leave parents and local officials with little control over their children’s education standards.

After Lee County voted to resume testing, Regalado voiced concern about what Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal called a “scheme” by big government to nationalize curriculum.

>>> Bobby Jindal Suit Says Obama ‘Scheme’ Forced Common Core Education Standards on Louisiana, Other States

“Parents are right to believe that we are testing too much,” Regalado said, “but what they need to understand is that this comes from the state and federal level and these tests are tied to our funding so as school board members, we are very limited in what we can do.”