A 9-year-old goes in on standardized tests and ends with the best mic drop of all time.

When 9-year-old Sydney Smoot stood up at her local school board meeting, I doubt they expected this kind of talking to.

If you need proof standardized testing is setting students up for failure, just ask the students.

Sydney Smoot has a bone to pick with the Hernando County School Board. The issue? The Florida Standards Assessment Test, or FSA for short. On March 17, 2015, Sydney bravely stood up at her local school board meeting to share how she felt about the test and why she believes it's failing students and teachers.


"This testing looks at me as a number. One test defines me as either a failure or a success through a numbered rubric. One test at the end of the year that the teacher or myself will not even see the grade until after the school year is already over. I do not feel that all this FSA testing is accurate to tell how successful I am. It doesn't take in account all of my knowledge and abilities, just a small percentage." — Sydney Smoot

Can we give this little girl a medal? She was speaking right to my soul with that speech!

I reached out to Sydney and her mom, Jennifer, via email to find out more about what prompted this passionate speech.

What inspired you to write your letter?

"What inspired me to speak all started one day when I came home. My mom asked me how the testing went, and I told her I was told not to speak about the test to anyone. I had not felt comfortable signing something in the test. I had concerns about this test because there was a lot of stress put on students and myself. I was a little nervous before the speech, but when I was called up to the podium, I did not feel nervous because I knew this speech was going to help a lot of people."

Have you ever thought about running for president? Cause I'd vote for you!

"I've thought about running for president because if I'm president, I will be considerate about the people in this state."

You gotta admit, she looks pretty good up there, right?

Parents have a right to be concerned about standardize testing regulations.

One thing that really stuck out to me in Sydney's speech was that the FSA prohibits students from talking to their parents about the test. So I was anxious to hear what Sydney's mom thought about the stipulation. She had this to say:

"When my daughter came home telling me she had to sign a form stating she couldn't talk to anyone including her parents, I got concerned. Not only that I didn't like the fact that the last four of her Social Security number was on the test labels along with other personal information. In today's world of identity theft, it doesn't take much for people to get a hold of these things and use them.

I would like to tell other parents to learn more before these tests start in your children's school and know what they are testing. They have options, you can opt out so to speak, and the child can complete alternative testing if they are in the retention grades; or, if the child wants to take the test, support them and let them know that no matter how they do, it does not define them as a person.

It's a test and a poorly designed one at best."



Standardized tests are changing the classroom. And not for the better.

As Sydney shared in her speech, she and her classmates are feeling the pressure when it comes to preparing for the FSA. But they aren't the only ones. Teachers are also struggling to get students ready and are often forced to cut corners as a result.




What standardized tests also fail to take into account is that in many ways, test-taking is a skill, one that not every student is ready for. When I was in school, we spent months gearing up for the dreaded FCAT, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. And if months of test prep wasn't bad enough, if you didn't pass the FCAT, you couldn't graduate high school. Talk about stressful! The pressure of your high school career rides on one test, combined with the fact that standardized tests don't accurately measure what students have learned. Plenty of capable students fail these tests due to increased anxiety and stress. If high school students are struggling to handle the pressure of standardized testing, imagine how difficult it must be for elementary school students like Sydney!

Young Sydney is a testament to how important it is that we listen to students and create curriculum that challenges and educates them, rather than scaring them into "learning." I think Sydney's suggestion of three comprehensive tests throughout the year makes way more sense than one big statewide test that interferes with teachers' schedules and stresses students out. And let's be real, when's the last time you heard a kid ask for MORE tests?! Clearly standardized tests aren't the answer or at least need some serious work. Hopefully Sydney's message will make an impact and get her school board and schools across the nation to rethink how we measure students' success.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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