Alaska’s Opt-Out Law Has Nothing to Do with Standards – But It Could Undermine the Value of Good Assessments

A law that allows parents to opt their children out of state standardized tests goes into effect this week in Alaska – which, an article by the Tenth Amendment Center claims, “gives parents a powerful tool to push back against Common Core.”

The opt-out movement in New York and other states, the piece adds, is a “shining example of the effectiveness of an individual opt-out campaign against Common Core testing programs.”

Sadly, the folks at the Tenth Amendment Center are confused on several levels. First, and most glaring, Alaska never adopted the Common Core. So the idea that the state law creates “a path forward for Alaska parents” who want “to put education back into the hands of state and local bodies” makes little sense.

If Alaska families are concerned about control over their state’s education standards, the Every Student Succeeds Act should give them reassurance. The law, which replaces No Child Left Behind, prohibits the federal government from incentivizing or otherwise encouraging states to adopt any specific set of education standards or accountability system.

The Tenth Amendment Center conflates education standards with “testing programs.” But, high and comparable education standards are not tests. They set clear, consistent learning goals that outline what students should reasonably know and be able to achieve at each grade level. How states measure progress towards those goals is entirely up to state and local officials, who set testing policies.

For parents who have issues with their state’s assessments, opting out is a misguided response. Refusing to allow their children to participate undermines the value of data provided by good assessments. It puts all students – not just theirs – at a disadvantage by undermining the integrity of information returned by exams, which teachers use to inform instruction and education policy.

“Let’s be clear: there are constructive ways to improve education and accountability policies. Opting out is not one of them,” former Education Secretary Bill Bennett wrote this year. “Refusing to participate in assessments puts students, parents, and teachers at a disadvantage, and it does little to address legitimate concerns about the quality and volume of state tests.”

In New York and across the country a growing consensus has emerged urging parents to “opt in” to high-quality assessments. Parents should ignore “naysayers who want to go back to past policies that left generations of minority children behind and millions of student underprepared for college,” says Steve Sigmund, executive director of High Achievement New York. “Kids should take the tests and help ensure that all students have an equal shot at a quality education.”

Instead, education advocates – teachers, parents and policy experts – have developed tools to help parents work with their schools towards better, fairer and fewer tests. These efforts are especially important for minority and low-income students to ensure they have access to an education that prepares them for college and careers.

We encourage parents to take advantage of resources available to them and to work with their local teachers to continue to improve testing policy. To turn back on higher standards and high-quality assessments, as opponents suggest, would undo the hard-won gains students are making as they achieve higher academic expectations.