Opt-Out Advocates Threaten One of Parents’ and Teachers’ Strongest Tools

Even as the Every Student Succeeds Act reinforces once and for all state and local control of education and testing policies, opt-out advocates continue to undermine one of the strongest tools parents and teachers have to measure student readiness. “What was once a whisper is now boldly stated,” asserts Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education Fund. “Opt out is not going away.

High-quality assessments are one of many tools parents and teachers have to ensure their children are developing the skills and knowledge base to get and stay on a path of college- and career-readiness—but they are an important one. They ensure families are informed whether their child is developing the skills and knowledge base to succeed at high levels of learning, and to get them the support they need if not.

Encouraging families to opt-out of assessments risks undermining the effectiveness of the exams. Last spring 12 civil and human rights groups opposed opt-out efforts. “We rely on the consistent, accurate, and reliable data provided by annual statewide assessments to advocate for better lives and outcomes for our children,” the groups said in a statement.

Last year, most states passed an important milestone by administering assessments aligned to college- and career-ready expectations. “States are finally measuring to levels that reflect what students need to know and be able to do,” Karen Nussle wrote. “For parents and educators, that should come as a welcome change.”

The transition to accurate student assessments has not been easy, but state leaders’ work is paying off. A follow-up analysis by Achieve released late last month, which looks at states’ progress since its initial Honesty Gap report, finds more than half of states have significantly closed discrepancies between state-reported proficiency rates and those identified by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

“[States] should really be commended for starting to be more transparent with parents and educators about how their kids are doing,” said Sandy Boyd, chief operating officer for Achieve. “It really is the first step in improving outcomes.”

“If you don’t know how your kids are doing, you can’t really improve student outcomes,” adds Karen Nussle, executive director of the Collaborative for Student Success.

Research conducted by the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) found high-quality assessments like PARCC and Smarter Balanced represent a big improvement over those many states used before. Pam Reilly, a former Illinois Teacher of the Year and a participant in the NNSTOY research, wrote, “In near unanimity, our research concluded that PARCC and Smarter Balanced outperformed states’ old tests in several ways. Importantly, they more accurately reflect the reading and math skills all students should master; better determine students’ true understanding of a subject; align well with classroom instruction; and hold all students to rigorous levels of achievement…I can say with confidence these new assessments are the kind we should want our kids to take.”