Parents across the nation have let it be known that they do not want their children subjected to standardized test. In 2015, Louisiana parents initiated a statewide opt-out movement. With just weeks to go before testing, and under immense pressure from districts, Supt. John White agreed not to penalize schools with large opt-outs. Schools with 10% or more students opting out would receive the same score they received the previous year. Of course, schools with up to 10% were penalized, although technically the law didn’t allow penalties until 5%, but that’s another story. The most notable districts with opt-outs were Caddo Parish, Calcasieu Parish and Central School District. Calcasieu garnered the most with about 1300 students opting out of the PARCC assessment.
In 2015, the opt-out numbers dropped, considerably, for a couple of reasons.
- The test name was changed from PARCC to LEAP 2025.
- White declared that he would not give a free pass to schools with excessive opt-outs.
As a result, the districts were faced with the possibility of having their performance scores penalized because of parents exercising their right to exclude their child from the assessment. While most districts honored the parents’ decisions, some resorted to strict testing policies up to, and including, “sit and stare” policies. This means students who opted out would be placed in the testing room with a test booklet, but not forced to take the test. Policies such as this are damaging to the relationships that schools have with the very people they serve and subject children to unjust punishment.
Since his very first days in office, John White has masterfully spun a deceitful web. Often times, his narratives are referred to as “White Lies.” I want to address some of those very common White lies, regarding opt-outs, which filter down to districts when parents ask about opting-out.
We are still under NCLB.
This is the most common response when a parent says, “ESSA specifically allows parents to exclude their children from assessments.” In 2016, this might have been debatable, but in 2017, it is absolutely not true. How do I know? USDOE issued this Guide to Transitioning to ESSA. On pg. 13, section B1, it answers the question Must a State continue to implement its ESEA flexibility request? Each State with an approved ESEA flexibility request must continue to implement that request through the 2015-2016 school year. All ESEA flexibility requests are null and void as of August 1, 2016.
The law requires all students to test.
Sometimes, you’ll get this response if the person you ask acknowledges that ESSA is in effect. Generally, they will quote the following provision, highlighted in yellow, to deny your right to exclude your child from assessments. To most people, that would be enough to stop asking. I mean, it is the exact response that I received when I contacted Joan Hunt, General Counsel for LDOE; however, when you read it in its context, it means something entirely different.
Notice in section (B)(v)((I), it begins to describe all of the required testing for Mathematics, Reading or Language Arts and the grades they must be given. In (B)(v)(III), it goes on to say that if the state chooses to test any other subjects, they must provide for the participation of all students. This means it has to be a subject that all students take. For example, in middle school, some students might choose to take a foreign language, or music class, for enrichment. The state cannot include a state assessment for this subject in its accountability plan because not all students take these classes.
Schools will receive a zero for students who opt-out.
This another one of those things that might have been debatable in 2016. The law didn’t require it, but it didn’t prevent it, or offer an alternative. In the past, schools received zeros because that is what White put in the NCLB waiver.
Under NCLB, States were required to calculate the participation rate of each district and school. Under the old law, the participation rate was calculated by dividing the number of participants by the number of eligible students. For example, if 100 students are eligible, but only 92 take the test. then the participation rate is 92%. Then the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) was calculated using the participation rate and the percent of students reaching mastery based on the total number of eligible testers, or 95%; whichever is larger. This effectively assigns a zero to the non-testers.
Under the new law, the requirements are quite different; however, former Secretary John King wrote into the regulations a process almost identical to the old one. Since AYP is no longer required to be reported, ESSA allows for the calculation of achievement to include only actual participants.
The law clearly allows you to choose the other option for determining achievement. What is happening is the parent’s authority to exclude their child from testing is being violated because school administrators fear being penalized because White has chosen to do it that way. It seems to me that the right thing to do is remove the temptation for schools and districts to make policies that put them at odds with the parents of the children they serve. Calculate mastery by considering only actual participants.