Big government tamps down all optimism associated with springtime. As if the April 15 deadline for filing tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service wasn’t stressful enough, now comes the season of federally mandated K–12 standardized testing.
Not many citizens are bold enough to opt out of paying taxes, but many families once again are considering opting out of the worrisome student assessments linked to Common Core national standards. The parental blogosphere is buzzing with talk of how to submit refusal letters to school officials and whether it’s best to keep students at home on test days or to trust they won’t be forced to just “sit and stare” while their classmates take untimed examinations.
In 2015, 640,000 students in 14 states that reported their numbers sat out the standardized tests, according to FairTest, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit that long has opposed abuses in testing. Most remarkably, the opt-out rate reached 20 percent in New York State.
Some things have changed this year. John King, the adamantly pro-Common Core state education commissioner who greatly riled New York parents and teachers, is now the U.S. Secretary of Education, having been nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Republican-led Senate, by a 49–40 vote.
Additional changes are related to the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which was advertised by its sponsors as restoring local control over many education-related matters, such as testing, that No Child Left Behind had stripped away. ESSA became the federal education law of the land in December.
Parents are already discovering the advertising was false and the pressures to conform to the federal design are more intense and personal than ever. That reality could increase resentment and lead to even more refusals.
ESSA not only continues the federal mandate for testing of students in grades 3–8 and once in high school, but also the required 95 percent participation rate. What’s new is the U.S. Department of Education will hold state departments of education responsible for squelching local test refusals. Thus, wrote standards expert Sandra Stotsky in the March 16 edition ofNewBostonPost, an online newspaper, “ESSA turns state departments of education into school bullies.”
U.S. parents across the blogosphere have reported countless state and local educrats are warning that if parents refuse the assessments, they will face dire consequences, such as low-income children losing their ESSA funding; their own children being unable to graduate because they haven’t passed a “college readiness” test; and falling qualitative rankings of their children’s schools, which the educrats say would result from a low participation rate.
Most threats are nothing more than hot air. Stotsky says no state legislature has mandated such a so-called readiness test, and it is unlikely any will, and while former Education Secretary Arne Duncan did imply a year ago that states could be docked federal funding when participation rates fall below 95 percent, nothing ever came of that bluster. Does King aspire to be even more of an enemy of parental rights than Duncan?
As they consider taking a stand against experimental and time-consuming assessments, nothing worries parents more than the thought of their children being harshly and unfairly punished. The concern is not limited to public school patrons. On the Stop Common Core in New York Catholic Schools website, a participant quoted a principal saying a kid refusing the testing would be given a book and made to stay on the testing site for the duration without leaving.
Not all principals and superintendents are that belligerent. In fact, some are cooperating in setting up alternative learning opportunities for dissenters. Another site, Save Our Schools New Jersey, compiled “naughty or nice” lists of school districts. “Nice” are those that “treat parents who refuse and their children with respect,” while the “naughty” ones “bully parents and students to accommodate the [New Jersey Department of Education].”
If states really wanted to take charge, they could enact laws expressly recognizing the right of parents to opt their children out of standardized testing to which they have not consented. Eight belong on the honor roll for already having done so: California, Colorado, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Robert Holland (email@example.com) is a senior fellow for education policy with The Heartland Institute.