Local Control Shouldn’t Be Misconstrued as a Reason to Opt-Out of High-Quality Assessments

Taking issue with proposed federal regulations requiring states to meet participation benchmarks on student assessments, the Westchester Journal News editorial board suggests the rules are misguided because they may discourage opting out of state assessments.

“Schools with high opt-out numbers would have to waste time and resources preparing ‘improvement plans.’ It’s absurd for the feds to require states to punish school districts for the decisions of independent (and independent-minded) parents,” the piece argues.

Similarly, Rye City Councilwoman Julie Killian issued a “red-flag alert” that the proposal could “single-handedly damage all that our students, teachers and families have worked for.”

State and local officials should absolutely have control over education issues, including their systems of accountability. The Every Student Succeeds Act was written to ensure that right. The law forever ends “federal entanglement through Race to the Top and secretarial waivers in state decisions surrounding the adoption of standards and the selection of aligned assessments,” Karen Nussle explains.

However, local control should not be used as a ploy to encourage families to opt-out from high-quality student assessments. Good exams are one of the best tools parents and teachers have to measure student development, and to ensure their kids receive the support they need.

“Let’s be clear,” former Education Secretary Bill Bennett wrote earlier this year. “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.”

Last year, 12 national civil and human rights groups denounced the opt-out movement. “We rely on the consistent, accurate, and reliable data provided by annual statewide assessments to advocate for better lives and outcomes for our children. These data are for understanding whether and where there is equal opportunity,” the groups wrote.

It’s important to note the draft federal regulations affect all states—not just those using the Common Core. For example, Texas, Virginia or Alaska would face the same consequences for failing to meet participation benchmarks, even though those states never adopted the Common Core.

In New York, education advocates have worked alongside state officials to improve testing policies. This year, the state reduced the length of its exams, provided more time for students, and put a moratorium on tying the results to teacher evaluations. State officials also released even more questions from the exams to provide parents and teacher with better information about what kind of materials their children can expect.

At the same time, the Center for American Progress, with the support of groups like High Achievement New York, have created tools to help empower parents to work alongside their schools to improve the quality of tests. The “Testing Bill of Rights,” for example, offers solutions towards better, fairer and fewer assessments. Learning Heroes’ “Readiness Roadmap” identifies resources to help families understand what their kids are learning and how they can support them.

This year, a chorus of educators, civil rights leaders, and parents began to encourage families to “opt in” to high-quality assessments. Their message is clear: By working together to improve states’ testing policies from the inside out, parents will ensure they have accurate information necessary to support their children towards college and career readiness.