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Lee County School Board reverses decision to opt out of tests

The Lee County School Board on Tuesday rescinded a controversial decision to opt out of all state-mandated testing.

The board reversed course after Lee County schools Superintendent Nancy Graham said the district could lose as much as $280 million in state funding. The Florida School Boards Association had also warned that thousands of high school students might be unable to graduate.

It was School Board member Mary Fischer who had a change of heart.

Fischer, who had sided with the 3-2 majority last week, called for the vote to be reconsidered Tuesday.

"It is not easy to sit up here and say I want to change my mind," Fisher said, adding that the board's initial vote "[had] multiple consequences that are not in the best interest of the students, the teachers, the district and the community at large."

The two other board members who voted against testing last week, Thomas Scott and Don Armstrong, remained unmoved.

"What we chose Wednesday the 27th was the right decision and I'll stick by that decision," Armstrong said.

More than 60 members of the public attended Tuesday's meeting. Many dressed in red to show their opposition to the state tests and Florida's new education benchmarks.

Emma Jane Miller, a former private-school teacher from Brandon, urged the school board to maintain its earlier position.

"Your decision to opt out of the testing was not rash, but necessary," she said.

Judd Cribbs, an assistant professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, said the state assessments had made public education in Florida "nothing more than fact regurgitation."

"Here's your chance to do what's right if you truly have students' best interest in mind," Cribbs told the board prior to the vote.

But some parents, including Stephanie Bloch, made the case for testing and accountability.

"While the Florida Standards may not be perfect, accountability is necessary," said Bloch, herself a graduate of the Lee County school system. "We should want for our children to achieve the highest level of which they are capable."