New  statistics released by Washington state’s superintendent of public instruction show that up to 53 percent of 11th-graders opted-out of the Smarter Balanced Common Core exams administered officially for the first time this past spring.

The large numbers of juniors who didn’t take the test — for reasons that could include a protest against the Common Core, sickness or just no desire to take a test that has no consequence for them — meant that the state just missed the federal mandate that 95 percent of students in grades 3-8 participate in the exams. The U.S. Education Department could, as a result, withhold some federal funding, but that is unlikely at this point.

The department, did, however, withdraw a waiver in 2014 that it had given to Washington state to exempt it from the most onerous — and nonsensical — parts of No Child Left Behind, the flawed federal education law that is being debated for replacement in Congress. The waiver was withdrawn because the state legislature had refused to agree to evaluate teachers based on standardized test scores, as the Education Department had demanded.

The withdrawal meant that the state had to return to implementing parts of the NCLB that Education Secretary Arne Duncan had himself declared unworkable. And it meant that most schools in the state — including excellent ones — would be declared “failing” under NCLB’s impossible standards. (If you are trying to find some sense in this, don’t waste your time.) Efforts in the state legislature to revisit the teacher evaluation effort to regain the waiver did not succeed because, ultimately, it was deemed that it isn’t fair to evaluate teachers by student test scores.

If Congress passes a new education law that succeeds NCLB, the waivers given by the Obama administration will be moot.

A movement to opt out of Common Core tests this past spring in a number of states gained steam, with hundreds of thousands refusing as a matter of principle not to take tests they believe are either badly constructed or whose scores are being used unfairly to evaluate teachers.

The Smarter Balanced exams were created by one of two multi-state consortia funded with about $360 million by the federal government to create new Common Core exams.

According to Washington state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, the confirmed refusals among juniors was 27.4 percent for the English Language Arts exam and 28.1 percent for the math exam, but it said the true rate for both exams could be as high as 53 percent. A news release about the preliminary statistics quoted State Superintendent Randy Dorn as saying:

“I’m proud of the students who participated in the new tests this year. Trying something new isn’t easy. My hope is that now that we’ve seen the new tests in action, more students will participate next year, especially in 11th grade. Eleventh graders who score a 3 or 4 on the tests are considered ready for credit-bearing coursework, and may avoid placement tests once they get into college.”
Washington’s Preliminary Refusal Rates on Smarter Balanced Testing (as of July 8, 2015)
Grade May 1 Enrollment English Language Arts Mathematics
Participation Confirmed Refusals Potential Refusals Participation Confirmed Refusals Potential Refusals
# % # %
3 81,759 80,923 99.0% 1.1% <5% 80,813 98.8% 1.2% <5%
4 80,180 77,589 96.8% 1.2% <5% 77,790 97.0% 1.2% <5%
5 80,052 77,519 96.8% 1.2% <5% 77,487 96.8% 1.3% <5%
6 79,254 76,847 97.0% 1.4% <5% 76,665 96.7% 1.5% <5%
7 78,809 75,419 95.7% 1.8% <5% 75,475 95.8% 1.8% <5%
8 80,497 76,786 95.4% 2.1% <5% 76,623 95.2% 2.2% <5%
11 79,769 37,482 47.0% 27.4% 28-53% 37,240 46.7% 28.1% 28-53%
Subtotal 560,320 502,565 89.7% 5.2% 5-10% 502,093 89.6% 5.31% 5-10%
10 80,948 75,805 93.6% 0.6% <5% N/A*
Total 641,268 578,370 90.2% 4.5% 5-10% 502,093 89.6% 5.31% 5-10%

*10th graders took the Smarter Balanced English language arts test because it is required for high school graduation: The Smarter Balanced mathematics test is not required for 10th graders.