Since the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year, tens of thousands of students across the country have opted out of federally mandated assessments. The opt-out movement has become a way for parents and students to protest the implementation of the Common Core State Standards as well as the overabundance of testing in schools.
One of the key provisions of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law requires school districts to maintain a 95 percent assessment participation rate. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently told states they risk losing federal funds if they fall below 95 percent compliance. This could have major implications for low-income and rural school districts that rely heavily on federal funding to hire staff, upgrade schools, and incorporate new programs.
On May 15, 2015, Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Tom Reed (R-NY) announced the introduction of The Enable More Parents to Opt-Out Without Endangering Resources Act (H.R. 2382), which would guarantee parents the right to opt out of assessments. The EMPOWER Act would prevent the federal government from punishing states that fall below the 95 percent compliance rate and would allow parents to opt their child out of an assessment for any reason. The National Education Association (NEA) has already endorsed the EMPOWER Act and Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY) signed on as an original co-sponsor. As the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization process moves forward, debates over opting out, as well as the proper role of assessments, are expected to continue and could potentially derail the entire process.
The high-stakes testing culture originated from the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) provision of NCLB that placed heavy emphasis on testing and labeled schools based on assessment performance. Each label was accompanied with a list of consequences that provided states with recommendations for improving the schools that failed to meet AYP. In many cases, these labels led to the firing of teachers and school administrators, school closings, or turnaround efforts led by charter school networks. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Education started granting states NCLB flexibility waivers in exchange for increased standards, improved accountability, and teacher improvement efforts. While many of the states that received waivers were no longer required to meet AYP requirements, testing in schools continued to increase as accountability and teacher evaluation initiatives progressed.
This April, JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) wrote a letter to parents in response to the opt-out movement. In this letter, Executive Director Bartoletti acknowledges NCLB has created a culture of over testing and sympathizes with parents who have children taking monthly standardized tests. At the same time, she discusses the major implications reduced federal funding could have on state education budgets and tells parents opting out could ultimately reduce educational opportunities for their children.
In addition to advocating for reducing the reliance on assessments, NASSP will continue to support the implementation of the Common Core State Standards as well as next generation assessments that measure what students actually need to be college and career ready.