Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said at a Q&A in Chicago Tuesday that widespread student boycotts of standardized tests are not acceptable, and if state governments don’t stop them, the federal government will.
Under No Child Left Behind, at least 95 percent of students in a state must take annual standardized tests in reading and math from grades 3-8. Until now, the federal government has never had to contemplate enforcing that regulation, but a growing parent-led boycott effort is changing things.
Now, in many states, thousands of parents who oppose new Common Core-aligned tests or simply oppose testing in general are yanking their children out of exams. In New York, activists claim over 175,000 students are refusing to take the state’s new standardized English tests, a figure that would put the state on pace to miss the 95 percent threshold.
In many states, public school students can’t be forced to take tests, and some states even explicitly protect the right for parents to opt out. Now, Duncan says if states aren’t willing to make sure kids take tests, the federal government will.
“We think most states will do that,” Duncan told an Education Writers Association conference in Chicago, according to Chalkbeat New York. “If states don’t do that, then we [the federal government] have an obligation to step in.”
Duncan didn’t elaborate on what the federal intervention might look like. It could, however, involve labeling districts with too many opt-outs as “failing,” a status that places restrictions on how schools use federal money. This would in turn pressure state government and school districts to roll back parental opt-out rights.
Duncan maintained the Obama Administration’s position that standardized tests are crucial for both tracking students’ progress and keeping tabs on the achievement gaps between certain groups.
“Folks in the civil rights community, folks in the disability community, they want their kids being assessed. They want to know if they are making progress or growth,” Duncan said.
Duncan also talked about his regrets during his six years running the Department of Education. He said he was “naive” in early efforts to work with Republicans to replace NCLB, and also lamented that the country, in his view, doesn’t treat education as a priority or a means to elevate the country’s poorest people.
“Education has to be the great equalizer, it has to be the tool that helps increase social mobility,”Duncan said.
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