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Update: Most States Lack Opt-Out Policies - But Parents Find A Way

Alarm-silence FLATTOP341 flickrAt the risk of making a mountain out of a molehill, here's what I've been able to dig up since yesterday on the topic of parents' rights to opt children out of standardized testing, which I'd thought was pretty well-established (like field trips and sex ed) but is apparently not at all.

Officially, at least, states are required to test everyone who's at school on testing days (for civil rights reasons) and most states don't formally allow parents to opt out. That seems to be the basis upon which Illinois state officials have been telling Chicago parents that they can't just sign a form.

However, parents in most places seem to have figured out other ways -- religious exemptions and/or keeping kids out of school -- to avoid having their children tested if that is their wish.  

Districts and administrators sometimes urge parents to reconsider or even in a handful of cases suggest scary effects if parents opt out, but they're bluffing. "We have yet to see a public school attempt to stop opt out when parents push back," notes United Opt Out's Peggy Robertson. "The school district always back down." Testing opponents sometimes try and pressure parents to join them, too (see previous post).

See below for very helpful details from Fairtest, NCSL, United Opt Out, and ECS.  Tell CCSSO and USDOE to get over their Mardi Gras hangovers and email me back. 

According to NCSL's Michelle Exstrom, states require students who are at school to be offered to take tests not to be jerks about it but to force schools to test all kids they are in charge of educating and not exclude low-performing ones.

"Historically schools were lax on this and some low performing students just weren’t encouraged or required to take the assessments and schools/districts/states weren’t held accountable for the achievement gap."

A recent search of statutes included "a few pieces of legislation that would have allowed parents to opt their students out most commonly for those demonstrating disabilities, but this is definitely not a widespread policy."  

There's been more activity about this recently but it's mostly been focused on districts opting out of CCSS, not schools or parents: "KY is considering legislation that would allow several districts already freed from some regulations to use their own C&CR assessment, and AZ has similar legislation.  CO has legislation that would study the entire statewide assessment system to determine whether the number of assessments are appropriate and whether a district could offer its own C&CR assessment."

See NCSL's Common Core database for specifics [click "assessments"] and note that the CO proposal would also consider the issue of parental opt outs.] What about federal law? "To my knowledge, there are no federal provisions allowing parent opt-out."

FairTest's Bob Schaeffer sees much the same thing as everyone else: "To the best of my knowledge, most state laws (and regulations) are mute on opting out." That means states and districts have to figure things out - with the help of educators in some places and against the wishes of educators in most. 

According to Schaeffer and others, CA is the only state that has a a specific provision empowering parents to submit a form to exempt their children out of a test. [ECS's Kathy Christie notes she's been told that CA gives students with waivers a score of not proficient (rather than absent or excluding them from the testing pool, which might be illegal). "I would not be surprised if other states do that as well."] In other states, says Schaeffer, parents have used religious exemptions originally designed for sex ed classesto stop test from being administered to their kids.

According to Peggy Robertson at United Opt Out, there is no clearinghouse of state laws and proposals regarding parents and opting out other than her organization's informal state by state guidance. "Some states have loopholes," notes Robertson.  Colorado's opt out law just passed the House committee.  The SDE in Kansas just sent out a letter allowing parents to opt out, which Robertson describes as "a rare find." Most states and districts have ad hoc procedures.  Only CA has a clear-cut policy.

Nothing from CCSSO or USDE yet.  I'll let you know.

Image Common Core via FLATTOP341

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Odd. No discussion of the constitutional right of parent to direct their child's education.

There IS a more-complex backstory, because due to the notorious high stakes, and the impact of test-score reporting in general, schools would be highly motivated to try to find ways to persuade expected low scorers to stay home on test day.

In the days when once-hailed, now-fizzled for-profit Edison Schools Inc. was the miracle-run-by-saints-du-jour of the so-called "reform" sector and its cheerleaders, Edison Charter Academy in San Francisco was a big news story for a while, in 2001. It was always rumored that ECA prodded the low scorers to stay home sick on test days and made sure the high achievers got to school. And in fact of the "happy parents" who was publicly speaking out in favor of ECA during that brouhaha said this: Her child had been a low performer at the previous public school -- and when asked how the child's standardized test scores were at ECA, she answered that the child had an arm in a cast during the test week, so her teachers had said it was too hard for her to bubble in the Scantron sheet and she should skip the test. (The child had just been there the one year.) If the child had been a high performer, would ECA admins have felt she could handle bubbling in the sheet? Discuss among yourselves.

So anyway, policies have presumably been based on attempting to prevent schools, whether public or "miracle" charters, from keeping low-scoring students out of the test data. It gets complicated when there's an increasingly powerful opt-out movement by parents.

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