Manatee County, Florida, is standing by its stated policy: Third graders who do not take the state test or do not take the SAT-10 will be held back, no matter what their teacher says, no matter what kind of work they can show, no matter what. Period.

To be fair, Manatee is not the only county planning to flunk third-graders who opt out. And to be even more fair, they are just complying with a truly absurd state law.

Many researchers believe that retaining children in third grade is harmful, that it dampens students’ interest in learning, and that eventually retention turns into dropping out in later grades. After all, the students who are held back suffer humiliation.

But while researchers may debate the value of retention, no one argues that a good reader should be flunked because he or she did not take a test. What is the purpose of retaining a good reader, an excellent reader? The district can say it was “just following orders.” The district can say its hands are tied to state law. But no matter what they say, holding back a student for punitive reasons proves that “reform” is not about the kids. It is about a hard-right ideology that wants to standardize children and impose iron conformity, even to unjust laws.

And that is the problem with the Florida law. When excellent students are held back as punishment, then the law is stupid and unjust. As we have learned from opt out in other states, the children who do not take the test are very likely children of educated parents, who consider the test to be unnecessary and burdensome. If the students can demonstrate that they can read by reading-out loud to an examiner, doesn’t it make sense to allow them to advance a grade based on the fact that they can read rather than on their willingness to submit to a multiple-choice test?

Understand that when you discuss the willingness of a third-grader to take a test, you are really talking about their parents, not the child. It is virtually certain that the parent tells the child not to take the test because the parent wants to make a statement.

Bear in mind that the parent pays the taxes that pay the salaries of the legislators, the principal, the state education department staff, and the teachers. These are public employees. Why should they ignore the will of parents? Why should the legislature celebrate school choice, yet deny parents the right to remove their child from the testing regime?

Time to review Peter Greene’s sensible commentary on this goofy situation.

He writes:

An eight year old child who had a great year in class, demonstrated the full range of skills, and has a super report card– that child will be required to repeat third grade because she didn’t take the BS Test.

This is what happens when the central values of your education system are A) compliance and B) standardized testing. This is what happens when you completely lose track of the purpose of school.

What possible purpose can be served by this? Are administrators worried that the child might not be able to read? No– because that is easily investigated by looking at all the child’s work from the year.

What possible benefit could there be to the child? Mind you, it’s impossible to come up with a benefit in retention for the child who has actually failed the test– but what possible benefit can there be in flunking a child who can read, her teacher knows she can read, her parents know she can read, she knows she can read– seriously, what possible benefit can there be for her in retention. How do you even begin to convince yourself that you are thinking of the child’s well-being at all when you decide to do this?

This is punishment, not so pure, but painfully simple. Punishment for non-compliance, for failing to knuckle under to the state’s testing regime. And in taking this step, the districts show where their priorities lie– the education of the children is less important than beating compliance into them and their parents, less important than taking the damned BS Test.

Officials in these counties scratch their heads? What can we do? The law is the law. Well, in the immortal words of Mr. Bumble, “the law is an ass.” And furthermore, just look across county lines at some other Florida counties that are NOT doing this to their third graders. Go ahead. Peek at their answer. Copy it.

Hell, Superintendent Lori White of the Sarasota schools is retiring in February of 2017– is this really how she wants to finish up her time there?