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Parents anxious to opt out of school tests

State law requires exams to advance, but there is an option

POSTED: September 1, 2013 12:01 a.m.

At Monday’s meeting of the Hall County Board of Education, Superintendent Will Schofield advised board members that schools have been receiving calls about preventing their children from taking standardized tests.

“I suspect the number is going to increase,” Schofield said at the meeting. “We have more and more parents that are beginning to question the efficacy (of testing), and whether or not they want their children taking high-stakes tests, particularly parents with young children.”

He said that there have been fewer than 10 formal requests, but a number of concerned parents have reached out to him on an informal basis.

“It peaks around test times, which have not occurred yet this year,” he said.

A general wariness or even outright dislike of standardized testing is turning into a national trend. A recently released PDK/Gallup poll shows 22 percent of Americans think increased testing helps school performance, with 77 percent saying increased testing has either hurt or made no different in public school performance.

There are even websites and Facebook groups which provide information on how to “opt out” of standardized testing, including fairtest.org and bartlebyproject.com.

That being said, both federal and state law require the administration of the tests, according to Melissa Fincher, associate superintendent for assessment and accountability in the Georgia Department of Education.

“We can’t excuse students from not testing,” Fincher said. “There are consequences if they don’t test.”

Schools are required to have a 95 percent participation rate in these tests for the College and Career Ready Performance Index.

There’s also a possibility that not taking a test could be detrimental to that student’s record. End of Course Tests account for 20 percent of a student’s final grade in that class. Third-, fifth- and eighth-grade students who do not take the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests may not be passed to the next grade level.

Within that state code is a caveat for students who do not pass the CRCT assessment: a student’s parent or guardian, teacher in that particular subject area and a school administrator all can agree the student would be best served to move up to the next grade.

“State law requires that assessments in particular grade levels ... be passed in order to be placed in the next grade,” said Sarah Bell, director of academic programs and standards with the Gainesville City School System.

While the Hall County school system has received phone calls about testing, the Gainesville system has not.

“The movement is gaining some traction nationally,” Bell said. “However, the school system is charged with reporting a reason as to why students don’t take standardized assessments.”

Fincher said that testing has been put under the spotlight for a number of reasons, including the cheating scandal in Atlanta’s public school system.

“And nobody wants to put kids through a stressful event,” she added.

There is no “process” for parents to follow if they don’t want their children taking standardized tests. Fincher said that she advises schools to document interactions with the parents to aid in the accountability process.

“We hope that’s not just a one-time conversation,” Fincher said about testing inquiries. “Ultimately, at the end of the day parents make the decision.”

“I think the public school system kind of feels like we’re caught in the middle,” said Kevin Bales, middle grades school improvement specialist with Hall County. “You have people demanding accountability and demanding the kids are tested and assessed. You have parents saying, ‘All right, we’re getting tired of it.’ And we’re kind of in the middle.”

At Monday’s board meeting, Schofield informed the board that the schools have no legal authority to let students “opt out” of testing.

But, he added, parental rights “trump all.”

“I think parents, at the end of the day, just want to be informed and they want to do what’s best for their child,” Fincher said.

Bell agreed that it’s ultimately the decision of the parents or guardians, but she said that testing can play a role in determining student growth.

“I just think it’s important that we have quality assessments, and that they give good information to parents and students,” Bell said. “That’s certainly our goal.”


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