School guidelines prevent testing ‘opt-outs’
Convention: HSTA Supports Right to Opt Out
New Business Item 15-7: State Standardized Assessments: Opt Out and/or Refuse
The Hawaii State Teachers Association shall lobby, within existing resources, for the right of parents/guardians to collaborate with teachers to determine appropriate assessment options for their child’s proficiency if they wish to opt out, and/or refuse to allow their child to take the statewide standardized assessments, as well as their right to do so without retaliation.
This items was passed by the Convention and referred to the Government Relations Committee. The GRC added this item to the Legislative Priorities.
The Resolution was added to the HSTA Digest of Policy Statements and New Business Items – 2015.
School guidelines prevent testing ‘opt-outs’
By Nanea Kalani
Parents seeking an “opt-out” for their children from standardized testing now underway in Hawaii public schools are being told that the state cannot grant the requests, according to new guidelines issued to schools.
Citing an advisory opinion from the state attorney general’s office, the Department of Education says state law does not allow for opting out of the tests. A few states, including California and Utah, have laws that allow parents to prevent their child from taking standardized tests, while others, like Arkansas and Texas, prohibit opt-outs.
“According to an opinion from the Hawaii Department of the Attorney General, students who are educated in Hawaii’s public schools must participate in the statewide assessment program,” the DOE wrote in its guidelines.
The department says the guidance was prompted by “heightened national efforts by various groups promoting the opting-out of testing.” But a spokeswoman said opt-out requests have not been widespread since the Smarter Balanced Assessment testing window opened last month. It wraps up in June.
Some 93,000 elementary and high school students are expected to take the test, which replaces the former Hawaii State Assessment.
Hawaii is among about 30 states that have agreed by this school year to administer new tests aligned to the Common Core standards — academic benchmarks adopted in most states that define, grade by grade, the knowledge and skills students need to graduate from high school ready for college.
The DOE’s opt-out guidelines, obtained by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, include a sample letter schools can send to parents who ask to opt out for their children. The letter explains that the department “is not able to honor this request” because “there is no federal or state provision authorizing a student to opt-out of required assessments.”
The department declined to release the legal opinion, citing attorney-client privilege.
“Hawaii must provide for the participation of all students in annual assessments in accordance with federal education law,” DOE spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz said in a statement. “Assessments help inform schools, educators and families on whether students are on track to graduate prepared for college and careers.”
At issue is the term “opt out.” The DOE acknowledges parents still can refuse to have their child participate, in which case the student would be boycotting the exam, not exempted from it.
The federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as No Child Left Behind, requires school districts to annually test all students in math and reading in grades 3 to 8, and once in high school.
The federal government requires a 95 percent test participation rate at schools, and states face possible sanctions, including loss of control over federal funding, if the threshold isn’t met.
The federal law allows exemptions for students who are unable to attend school due to a medical emergency or condition. And so-called English Language Learner students in their first year at a U.S. school can skip the reading portion of the test.
Under Hawaii’s federal accountability waiver from the outdated No Child Left Behind law, student achievement — as measured on standardized tests — has to be used to gauge teacher effectiveness and to hold schools responsible for learning gains.
The high-stakes tests have proved controversial with educators, with some endorsing the more rigorous assessments while others argue test preparations and testing are consuming too much classroom time.
Andy Jones, who teaches 11th-grade language arts at Radford High School, estimates he will have spent one-eighth of the school year — equivalent to 41⁄2 weeks — preparing his students to excel on the Smarter Balanced exam, which Radford will begin administering April 13.
“It’s not so much the quality of the material that I’m against. It’s the sheer amount of time it’s taking up out of the school year,” Jones said in an interview. “One-eighth of the school year — I don’t think anyone would agree that that makes sense.”
He’s still debating whether to opt out his teenage daughter from the test next year.
“I’m kind of in a quandary,” he said. “Do I go with my conscience … or do I let her take the test for the sake of her school?”
As other states have begun administering the tests, growing anxiety has fueled a national opt-out movement. Thousands of students across the country are opting out even if their state’s laws don’t expressly allow it, most notably in Colorado, New Jersey and New Mexico.
Mililani High School teacher Amy Perruso, Hawaii’s state leader for the national United Opt Out organization, disagrees with the state’s interpretation of federal and state laws related to testing.
“This raises the conversation to a whole new level,” Perruso, who has opted her daughter out of the former Hawaii State Assessment in previous years with no pushback, said of the new guidelines.
“Really, what they’re doing with this kind of statement, they’re asking for a legal challenge,” she said. “As soon as you tell parents that they don’t have the right to look out for their child’s best interest, that they’re legally obligated to subject their child to a test, then parents start to … I mean, there’s already a lot of talk about resistance.”
Some teachers say they’ve been instructed by their principals not to inform students or parents about opting out.
The Hawaii State Teachers Association, the union representing some 12,500 public school teachers, says its members need to balance their free-speech rights with their teaching obligations.
“Unfortunately, this movement is not moving the federal government in any way, shape or form,” HSTA Vice President Joan Lewis said in an interview. “Our teachers have to be very careful about what they say and how they say it, being mindful that this is an employer directive. But as citizens they do have every right to inform people.”
She added, “At the end of day, there is no consequence to students for not participating in the test, and we hope that our state stays that way.”