Threat of mass testing opt-outs looms over schools

Threat of mass testing opt-outs looms over schools

(La.) Ongoing protest over Common Core testing has 14 Louisiana schools asking for penalty waivers which would keep the state from holding them accountable if parents decide to remove their children from testing next month.

The state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education mandates a score of zero for every student that opts out of the testing. Supporters of the new nationalized curriculum standards warn that giving waivers from that policy could have negative implications.

“It would be sending a terrible message that we don’t support accountability in our state, and that we don’t think schools and districts should be held accountable for student performance,” said Barry Erwin, president of the Council for a Better Louisiana.

Late last month, Gov. Bobby Jindal issued an executive order urging the board of education to offer alternatives to Common Core testing, saying that the board should listen to parents and teachers who have been voicing their concerns over the merits of the standards.

The likelihood that the state will offer a different assessment appears slim, as education board president Chas Roemer has refused to call a special meeting on the topic, saying that the board can discuss the issue at its regularly scheduled meeting in early March. In addition, the federal government requires an annual assessment and testing takes place at the end of March.

According to Erwin, the policy in which schools receive zeroes for children who don’t take the test was created to discourage schools from keeping underperforming students from testing. The idea was that schools would be held accountable for helping struggling students instead of allowing them to slip through the cracks.

“It’s very disappointing that the governor is sort of encouraging that type of behavior when in fact the whole system we’ve built is to discourage it,” Erwin said. “I think it would be a terrible blow if we were to allow all these districts to not have any consequences for kids not taking the test.”

This is the second of two years in which schools aren’t being held fully accountable for student scores on the new testing. Schools will be graded on a curve this year, but beginning next year the scores will also factor into teacher evaluations.

The Terrebonne Parish School Board and St. Tammany School Board have discussed opting out of the tests district-wide, though the latter expressed concern that doing so would jeopardize more than $20 million in federal funding and likely result in schools receiving ''F'' performance scores.

A number of districts have asked the education board to hold a special meeting to clarify what will happen if students don't sit for the assessment, and what consequences schools and families will face.

No one can say for sure how many parents actually plan to keep their students from the testing – whether it’s simply a small but vocal group or a significant amount – but districts are concerned.

Testing plans and the consequences of opting out are expected to be on Board of Education’s agenda at its next meeting in early March.