(Correction: MD Education Department would create opt-out plan under amendment, not the budget committees)
A Maryland senator is proposing an amendment to the state’s fiscal 2016 budget that would allow parents to opt their children out of Common Core tests with impunity to the students and the schools — and the Senate is expected to vote on it as early as Thursday.
Sen. Justin Ready, a Republican, is placing the amendment on the Senate floor, according to his chief of staff, Aaron Jones, to make it easier for parents to choose whether their children can take the PARCC Common Core test next year. There is now no way for parents to opt out, and schools are deciding for themselves how to handle such requests, with some insisting that children take the tests and others allowing students to leave school with parents or sit somewhere in the school with no assigned schoolwork, Jones said.
Maryland schools have been implementing the Common Core State Standards for several years, and the state is a member of the Partnership for the Assessment of the Readiness for College and Career, one of two multistate consortia created to design new assessments aligned to the Common Core with some $360 million in federal funds. Students have been taking the PARCC in Maryland, as well as in a number of other states, amid a growing protest movement across the country against high-stakes standardized testing. Thousands of parents are opting out their children from taking Common Core exams and a small but growing number of teachers, principals and superintendents are publicly protesting the exams as being detrimental to effective teaching and learning.
The Maryland Department of Education said it could not immediately comment on the issue.
In late 2013, Maryland took over from Florida in the role as “fiscal agent” for PARCC, meaning the state has the leading role in managing the finances of the consortium. The desertion of Maryland from PARCC could badly hurt the consortium, which has already suffered major defections from state with Republicans governors and legislatures.
Whether new Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, will move to pull the state out of PARCC and even the Common Core remains to be seen. During the campaign, Hogan said he believed in local control of assessments, and Hogan’s spokespeople have said that he is seriously looking into the issue.
Currently only a few states — including Utah and California — have clear policies allowing parents to opt out their children from taking mandated state standardized tests, according to a report released last month by the Education Commission of the States. Several other states — including Minnesota — allow opt-outs by state education department policy rather than by state statute. Most states have no clear policy on this issue.
If Ready’s amendment were to pass, it would need final approval with the full fiscal 2016 budget, and would take effect during the next school year. According to Jones, the amendment calls for the Democratic-controlled Maryland legislature to withhold the $34 million appropriation for PARCC testing until the state Education Department submits an opt-out plan to the budget committees, with a Sept. 15, 2015 deadline. The committees will have 45 days to review the plan.
Ready worked on the amendment with Del. David Vogt III, a Republican who earlier this year submitted an amendment that called for the state to pull out of PARCC. It was defeated. Vogt said that his purpose in proposing that amendment was to raise the issue in the legislature and alert Maryland residents to the issue.
He also said he has been providing information to Hogan’s office to help them with their review of PARCC and the Common Core, and that if Ready’s amendment were to pass, he would push the Maryland Department of Education to quickly devise an opt-out policy for parents to cover the remainder of this school year. “Our parents need a voice,” he said.
The memorandum of understanding between PARCC and the state government says that a withdrawal would need the approval of the governor, the state education superintendent and the president of the state board of education. Maryland Superintendent Lillian Lowery is a supporter of the Core and PARCC. But Section VII, Subsection B of the memorandum of understanding states:
“In the event that the governor or chief state school officer is replaced in a Consortium state, the successor in that office shall affirm in writing to the Governing Board Chair the State’s continued commitment to participation in the Consortium and to the binding commitments made by that official’s predecessor within five (5) months of taking office.”
That suggests that Hogan, who took office in January, could effectively nullify the memorandum of understanding by himself.
Because school districts have been implementing the Core standards for several years, some superintendents say it would be disruptive to drop the Core and PARCC now. Still, at least one education company is already researching what kind of test could replace PARCC if it is dropped in Maryland, according to one superintendent.
Maryland would hardly be the first state to leave the PARCC consortium. In 2010, PARCC had 26 member states, but now fewer than a dozen states are using the PARCC exam this year.
Read more on the Common Core debate: