Students in D.C. region can’t formally ‘opt out’ of standardized tests

Though parents in some other states are formally “opting out” of high-stakes standardized tests and keeping their children at home on test days, officials in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia say it is not permitted in their jurisdictions.

A movement by parents to opt out  of standardized tests and keep their children home on test day — without penalty for the child — has been building in other parts of the country, including California, where it is guaranteed under California Education Code Section 60615:

Notwithstanding any provision of law, a parent’s or guardian’s written request to school officials to excuse his or her child from any or all parts of the assessments administered pursuant to this chapter shall be granted

In the past week or so, hundreds of parents in New York have kept their children home from school to avoid taking new Common Core-aligned standardized tests, saying that they believe students are subject to too many standardized assessments and that they oppose the use of the test scores to evaluate their child’s teachers.

My colleague Lyndsey Layton reported in this story that because regulations differ in the states, parents are using different procedures to officially opt out. In Pennsylvania, she said, some parents are citing a state rule that allows opting out of testing based on religious objections. In Florida, some parents are relying on regulations that allow for alternative assessments, such as a portfolio of schoolwork or SAT scores, but the rules are such in the Sunshine State that a blind, disabled boy born without a complete brain was being forced to take a test. (Really.)

Some jurisdictions are creating new policies as protests develop, according to Bob Schaeffer, public education director for the nonprofit National Center for Fair & Open Testing, or FairTest.

In the greater Washington, D.C., region, parents have no official opt-out options, officials say.

In Washington, D.C., where public school students are taking the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System exams, Athena W. Hernandez, director of communications for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), said in an e-mail, “There is no opt-out policy at the state level.” D.C. Public Schools spokesperson Melissa Salmanowitz said any such policy would have to come from OSSE.

Hernandez also noted that all schools are “required to have a minimum 95 percent participation rate” under the No Child Left Behind law. Though the Obama administration gave waivers to some states from the most onerous requirements of NCLB, this was not one of them, according to Schaeffer. Sanctions for failing to do so could affect a school’s standing under the law, which is why school officials try to dissuade parents from “opting out.”

William Reinhard, spokesman for Maryland’s Department of Education, said in an e-mail, “There is no ‘opt out’ option in Maryland.” And Charles Pyle, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education, said there is no opt out provision allowed by the state and that “all students in tested grade levels and courses are expected to participate in Virginia’s SOL assessment program, unless specifically exempted by state or federal law or by Board of Education regulations.”

Of course, parents can choose to keep their children home on the days the tests are given, but there can be consequences for students who don’t take the tests. Among the more obvious penalties are that some tests are required for high school graduation; kids who don’t pass can’t graduate. But there are new consequences for younger students, at least in the District, where students who fail to show up for their assigned standardized tests will be barred from participating in school sports next year, according to an e-mail sent to parents.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · April 24, 2013