Each year, in response to questions from parents, I try to post an article that will provide parents with the information they need to make an informed decision about state assessments. Rather than just pointing to the first article I wrote three years ago, it is necessary to write a new one each year because the laws, rules, and policies change each year. In preparing for this year, I noticed that the barrage of questions is causing me to write about assessments a full month earlier than past years. The simple answer to the question is “NO,” your child does not have to take state assessment; however, if you want to understand why, and be prepared when you face off with your school district, I suggest you read this article in its entirety. It is long, but informative.
Before getting into the meat and potatoes about assessments, I want emphasize that there is nothing in federal law, regarding accountability, that is a mandate on students, or parents. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is a mandate on states. It spells out a process that states must follow to develop an accountability plan that shows that they are using the money they receive from the federal government to address the needs of the most vulnerable students. It has nothing to do with the revenue schools receive at the state, or local, levels; only federal, and that generally accounts for somewhere between 10%-15% of a school district’s total budget.
When ESSA was in its developmental stages, there was an enormous bipartisan effort, in both the House and the Senate, to correct the many problems that existed under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The Conservative reformers got a lot of the things they wanted, and the Liberal reformers got a lot of things they wanted, but there were also compromises on many issues. Among those issues were test participation and parents’ rights.
Under NCLB, states were penalized if student participation rates dropped below 95%. Under the new ESSA law, states aren’t penalized, but they have to develop a plan of action if participation is below 95%, and they have to explain if, and how, it will affect school performance scores (SPS). ESSA even specifies the formula to use when calculation participation rates.
1003(b)(2) is the section (‘paragraph’) requiring testing.
1003(c) is the section on accountability. Within that:
‘‘(E) ANNUAL MEASUREMENT OF ACHIEVEMENT.—(i) Annually measure the achievement of not less than 95 percent of all students, and 95 percent of all students in each subgroup of students, who are enrolled in public schools on the assessments described under subsection (b)(2)(v)(I).
‘‘(ii) For the purpose of measuring, calculating, and reporting on the indicator described in subparagraph (B)(i) [FT: the statewide test indicator], include in the denominator the greater of—
‘‘(I) 95 percent of all such students, or 95 percent of all such students in the subgroup, as the case may be; or ‘‘(II) the number of students participating in the assessments.
‘‘(iii) Provide a clear and understandable explanation of how the State will factor the requirement of clause (i) of this subparagraph into the statewide accountability system.”
For a better understanding of how this calculation works, here are some examples based on 300 students eligible to take the test with the 95% threshold at 285.
- If 300 students take the test, the participation rate is 100%. (300/300=100%)
- If 290 students take the test, the participation rate is 100%. (290/290=100%)
- If 285 students take the test, the participation rate is 100%. (285/285=100%)
- If 280 students take the test, the participation rate is 98%. (280/285=98%)
- If 200 students take the test, the participation rate is 70%. (200/285=70%)
Can you follow the logic, here? This provision acknowledges that there will be some students who do not participate in state assessments, and it provides a 5% buffer before schools are affected.
Under NCLB, there was a tremendous pushback from parents against state assessments. The reality was that 100% of the students were subjected to standardized testing to justify the spending of money that is targeted at 30% of the students and represented less than 20% of local budgets. Congress knew that the NCLB policy of penalizing states for low participation rates was unjust. They incorporated into the new ESSA law a provision that expressly acknowledges a parent’s right to exclude their child from state assessments.
1111(b)(2)(K): “RULE OF CONSTRUCTION ON PARENT RIGHTS.—
“Nothing in this paragraph shall be construed as preempting a State or local law regarding the decision of a parent to not have the parent’s child participate in the academic assessments under this paragraph.”
In the simplest terms, this provision says that if there is a state law that says that a parent can exclude their child from state assessments, there is nothing in ESSA that says they can’t. I want to point out that there is no law, whatsoever, in Louisiana that addresses whether a parent can, or cannot, opt-out; therefore, the basic right to exclude your child from state testing is assumed. I predict that if an attempt to diminish that right by passing a law that prohibits opting-out, the result would be a public outcry like never seen before.
WHY DOES MY PRINCIPAL SAY STUDENTS ARE REQUIRED TO TEST?
School districts, and school administrators, are placed under a tremendous amount of pressure to deliver good results on state assessments, and much like teachers who are evaluated based on student scores, they are penalized for something they cannot control; student participation. They are not responsible, and cannot be blamed, for the policy; however, they are ultimately responsible for the dissemination of disinformation and the failure to push back against the unjust policies of Supt. John White, which I will illustrate below.
Under NCLB, the yearly waiver submitted to USDOE by John White not only penalized schools for low participation rates in the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) calculation, but also assigned a zero score for every student who didn’t participate. Essentially, this created a misleading achievement rate and penalized schools twice for the same student.
Remember, I mentioned above that under ESSA, states are no longer penalized if participation is below 95%. States only have to develop a plan of action for when it does and explain how it will affect SPS scores. When Louisiana’s ESSA plan was developed, Supt. John White decided that the required participation rate would be 100%, and that schools would be penalized beginning with the very first student who doesn’t participate in assessments. This was not a product of the statewide ESSA discussions that were really just Q&A sessions about a plan that White had already developed. This policy was heavily opposed by organizations like the Louisiana Association of Educators, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, the Louisiana School Boards Association, the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, the Louisiana Association of Principals, the Louisiana Association of Special Education Administrators, and the Governor’s Office. Still, the policy was included in the plan. The organizations that supported it were Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the Council for a Better Louisiana, and Stand for Children.
In addition to requiring schools to have 100% participation, White’s plan also ignores the formula provided for calculating participation rate. Using the same assumptions used in the 95% illustration above, this is the result when there are 300 students eligible to take the state assessment.
- If 300 students take the test, the participation rate is 100%. (300/300=100%)
- If 290 students take the test, the participation rate is 97%. (290/300=97%)
- If 285 students take the test, the participation rate is 95%. (285/300=95%)
- If 280 students take the test, the participation rate is 93%. (280/300=93%)
- If 200 students take the test, the participation rate is 67%. (200/300=67%)
Do you see the what a difference the change in calculation makes to a school’s participation rate? It creates a false level of achievement. It is a pretty compelling reason for principals to do whatever it takes to ensure 100% participation, but under no circumstance does it justify misleading parents, punishing students for not taking the test, or forcing an opt-out student to sit in front of a test booklet for hours with the hope that the child will cave to the pressure and take the test. The policy is unjust, and the right course of action would be to fight back against it.
DOES MY CHILD HAVE TO TAKE THE TEST?
It is ultimately your decision, but it is important for parents to understand the consequences of opting their child out of state assessments. Some of the consequences, I would consider justified; others, I believe would ultimately be challenged in court. There has been a policy change made by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) that may, or may not, affect your child. Under Louisiana Revised Statute 17:24.4, students are required to demonstrate “proficiency” on state assessments in 4th and 8th grade to advance to the next grade. However, BESE adopted a new policy this year that allows local school districts to determine whether, or not, a student can advance to the next grade, and districts have to illustrate how that will be determined in their Pupil Progression Plan (PPP). I suspect that the reason BESE chose to do this is because the new level of proficiency, this school year, is “Mastery,” as opposed to “Basic.” This change not only affects schools’ SPS, but also individual student scores. The predictable result would be a large number of 4th and 8th graders not passing the test (possibly most) and what to do with new students coming up to those grades and relatively few going up to the next grades. It’s a real problem.
In the PPP’s that I have seen, districts have made a good effort to accommodate these changes. In my district, for example, no fourth grade student will be retained for a test score, but they will be required to agree to, and complete, remediation. This applies to students who don’t take the test, as well. In essence, the parent can exercise their right to exclude their child from the assessment, but then the child is penalized by being forced to complete remediation. For 8th grade advancement, students who do not have a passing score will be advanced to the next grade as a “transitional” 9th grader and required to participate in remediation until a passing score is achieved. This applies to students transferring from private schools, or out of state, and don’t have LEAP scores, as well as, students who did not take the test. Again, the student is punished for not taking the test…what school they went to…and where they lived.
Remember, BESE gave the decision to local districts in direct conflict with state law. If you are facing a situation of conflict over state assessments and grade advancement, this year, it was a local decision. In essence, it is a policy decision that is set my local school boards. Ask your local board if they voted on that decision. If they did, ask if they read the policy and knew what they were voting on. What will be interesting is to see is will districts revert to the state law requiring passing scores when a parent challenges their local policy?
WHAT SHOULD I DO?
If you have made the decision to opt-out your child, or you are contemplating it, I am going to suggest that you follow the same steps that I outlined, last year. They are listed below. Just remember, you will be met with resistance, and the firmer you stand, the higher the conflict will rise.
- Contact the superintendent of your school district, directly, and ask for a written policy on opt-outs. When provided, forward a copy to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- If the policy provided a.) acknowledges your right to exclude your child from testing b.) provides for a productive day in a setting away from testing for opt-out students, and c.) provides a form for opting out; follow the steps and turn in the form.
In the event that you do not receive a response, or the response states that your child will not be able to opt-out, compose a letter with all of the following components. Send the letter to the school principal and a copy to the superintendent with return receipt on both.
- Clearly state that you are exercising your authority as a parent to exclude your child from the state assessment.
- Request that during testing your child be provided with a day of instruction that cannot be perceived as punitive, in a room separate from testing, and supervised by an appropriately qualified adult.
- Be clear that any actions before, during, or after testing, that excludes your child from participation in clubs, activities or grade advancement because they did not participate in the state assessment, shall be deemed as discrimination, and a violation of your parental rights, and shall be met with legal action.
If you find yourself forced into a position where you have to communicate directly with a teacher, principal or superintendent, try to remain calm. Explain that your decision isn’t a personnel attack, but instead, an opposition to policy. Your decision is about your child and your authority as a parent. It is not about them, or their score, or their rating.