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3-23-15 Education Week New Federal Perspective re Opt Out...Star Ledger Editorial

Education Week - How Will the Education Department Handle Schools With High Opt-Out Rates?

By Alyson Klein on March 18, 2015 4:17 PM

As more parents choose to "opt" their children out of state standardized assessments, states have found themselves in a bit of pickle. The No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to test 95 percent of their students, or else face sanctions. 

Colorado wants to add language to its waiver from provisions of the NCLB law through the waiver-renewal process, ensuring that opt-outs don't count against a school's 95 percent participation threshold.

The state's rationale, as explained in this summary of proposed changes in its NCLB renewal request, which is due to the feds at the end of the month:

Schools and districts in Colorado are in the challenging position of balancing the requirements of state law (all students must be assessed) and honoring parent requests that their students do not participate in the state assessments. Some parents and students have reported feeling pressured to have their students participate in the assessments. Some schools and districts are frustrated by parents refusing to have their child participate in the state assessments, as it could have a negative impact on the school/district rating. The tension has been increasing in Colorado as more parent and student voices are speaking out against participating in the new state assessments.

The counterargument to that is, of course, that schools technically could persuade parents whose kids might not do so well on the tests to, well, opt out, thus bolstering their own scores. 

So how will the U.S. Department of Education handle Colorado's ask?

It's too early to say. But Deborah S. Delisle, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, made it clear Wednesday that she'll look at each state's context differently when thinking about what sort of sanctions to impose when it comes to opt-outs.

Her comments at Education Week's Leaders to Learn From event in Washington generally addressed what would happen at the state level, not with individual schools.

In terms of Colorado, "One of the things we would judge by is, what has Robert Hammond, the state chief done, to get [folks] to [go ahead with testing]," Delisle said. "Let's say he sent a letter that said, 'oh just opt-out. It's not a problem, we'll deal with it, no ramifications.' We would deal with that differently then if Robert Hammond goes around to every district saying, 'Hey look, [this] is federal law, you've gotta comply,' and everything in between."  

And, particularly if it's more affluent districts or parents doing the opting-out, she said, "we may look at something other than [withholding] Title I" money, which goes to help low-income students. The department's intention, she said, is "not to harm those kids who may, in fact, not even be in the schools where the opt-out took place." (Check out a live clip here. The question, and Delisle's answer comes a little before minute 43.)


Star Ledger Editorial Board - Enough: This hysteria about the PARCC exam needs to stop.

New Jersey has to have standards to keep up with other states. This is a new test, we are learning as we go and there will be rough spots.

Some districts are eliminating midterms and finals, so as not to overwhelm kids with standardized tests. Fine. PARCC is challenging. NJ ASK, its previous incarnation, was more of a pushover.

Parents have been allowed to refuse the PARCC test for their kids, and of course, no kid should be forced to sit for hours and stare at a blank computer screen while other students take it.

But be reasonable, people. Kids are not being spied upon. Parents shouldn't expect privacy for their children's public tweets or Facebook postings, and the state has every right to monitor for cheating. 

Some parents are actually upset that they were never told that their kids shouldn't be dictating test questions to other kids online. Really?

Remember that there is a broader public purpose here, one much more important than taking pot shots at the PARCC. One of the main reasons we need this standardized test is for parents in struggling districts like Camden or Newark, who would otherwise have no way of knowing whether their kids are in a failing school. The whining of parents in districts that don't have to worry about that sort of thing shouldn't take precedence.

You could also be in a suburban school, thinking you have the best district in the world, and then compare your test scores against others in the state and see you have some improving to do.

With the added variable of a multi-million dollar campaign against the test by the teacher's union, which doesn't want the PARCC to factor into teacher evaluations, the collective freakout has reached a crescendo. Let's try to dial it down.

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Garden State Coalition of Schools
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