Don’t Blame the Common Core for Potential Opt-Out Consequences


A Newsday article indicates states using the Common Core may be subject to federal regulations because of high opt-out rates, which has created backlash from teachers unions and others who say the results may be unfairly used in teacher and school evaluations.

“It is bizarre when you think about it, that a school would be punished for decisions taken by parents, which is their right to do,” argues Carol Burris. “Federal overreach should be stopped in its tracks,” adds Michael Hynes, a local superintendent. “To put so much weight into a score doesn’t make any sense.”

However, contrary to the article’s suggestion, the proposed federal regulations requiring a certain percentage of students to participate in assessments affect all states—not just those using Common Core State Standards. For example, education officials in states that never adopted the Common Core – like Texas, Virginia or Alaska – would face the same ramifications if high numbers of students opt-out of state assessments, even though those states never adopted the Common Core.

Moreover, lowering school ratings is only one potential outcome, and states have the opportunity to determine what course they will take. As the article notes, education officials can develop intervention plans to improve assessment participation. And the Every Student Succeeds Act prohibits federal authorities from requiring states and districts from tying performance evaluations to test results.

By intentionally blurring the distinction between assessments and standards, the article conflates parents’ frustrations over testing policy with frustrations about the Common Core. That is a mistake. The Common Core is not a test, or a testing regime. State and local officials determine testing policies. If parents have concerns, they can and should address those with their local educators and school boards. The Common Core is simply a set of learning goals that maps what students need to know and be able to do at each grade level to finish high school ready for college or a career.

At the same time, high-quality assessments are one of the best tools parents and teacher have to accurately measure student development, and to ensure students receive the support they need. Opting out undermines the integrity of the information exams provide, putting students at a disadvantage. And it does little to address the legitimate concerns families may have about testing policies.

“Let’s be clear,” former Education Secretary Bill Bennett wrote recently. “There are constructive ways to improve education and accountability policies. Opting out is not one of them. 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.”

Across the country, education advocates are working with schools to improve testing and accountability policies. Alongside the Center for American Progress, local advocacy groups like High Achievement New York have created tools like the “Testing Bill of Rights,” which offers parents solutions to work with teachers to develop better, fairer and fewer student assessments. Be a Learning Hero’s Readiness Roadmap identifies resources available to families to help them understand what their kids are learning and how they can support them. Likewise, the Great Kids State Test Guide provides ELA and math help for parents. The list goes on and on.

Across New York, and even the entire country, a growing chorus of education leaders, civil rights activists, parents and teachers are encouraging families to “opt-in” to high-quality assessments. By working together to improve states’ testing policies from the inside out, parents will not only ensure they have reliable, accurate information to help support their kids—they will help create a system that ensures students are held to high expectations that fully prepare them for college and careers.