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Student Opt Outs in Utah Now Categorized as “Students Who Took Tests But Failed.”

July 15, 2018

The federal government wants test scores on at least 95 percent of students in each state.

But states have their own policies and laws, right?

Well… sure. So long as those laws and policies fall into line with the federal testing mandate, with states expected to *remediate* situations in which fewer than 95 percent of students complete those federally-mandated tests or possibly face consequences related to Title I funding. (In Utah’s case the current price tag stands at approximately $123M.)

Sure, states could petition the US Department of Education for “flexibility,” but when it comes to those test scores, don’t count on it.

And so it goes in Utah, as the July 13, 2018, Salt Lake Tribune reports:

Utah’s public schools are poised to take a hit from parents who excuse their children from year-end tests.

After its series of requests for flexibility from federal education laws were denied, the Utah Board of Education has agreed to count opt-outs as students who took tests but failed in order to achieve a minimum participation rate of 95 percent.

So, Utah students opting out will now contribute to lower school performance scores, which can be used to determine which schools fall in the lowest 5 percent in a state and require special remediation efforts.

Stupid, I know. But in our test-idolizing, ed reform culture, here we are. The same ones tossing around lingo of “states’ rights” want to coerce states into profound, required, standardized testing.

Utah parents don’t want all of this standardized testing, as the Salt Lake Tribune continues:

The number of parents excusing their children from year-end tests has steadily increased as Utah’s testing system, SAGE, has fallen out of favor within the education community. Opt-outs were originally fueled by skepticism toward the Common Core State Standards — upon which Utah’s grade-level benchmarks and testing systems are based — but later ambivalence toward programs like school grading led educators to de-emphasize test scores.

State law prohibits schools from encouraging participation in year-end tests, or using test scores in the calculation of a student’s semester grades….

In 2017, 5.9 percent of students statewide opted out of year-end testing, putting Utah below the 95 percent threshold for participation. The opt-out rate was even higher among charter schools, where 13 percent of students were excused from testing. And at five charters, the majority of students declined to participate. …

In 2017, roughly one in five students in Park City School District opted out of testing, the highest rate of Utah’s 41 school districts. Many of those students were among the highest-performing in the district, Park City technology director Andrew Frink said, but they saw little reward for taking a voluntary test with no personal stakes.

“It puts us in a tough spot,” Frink said. “Utah is a parent’s rights state. It’s very clear in legislation; parents have the right to opt out if they choose.”

So, there’s the choice, Utah: Honor parental rights for opting out of federally-mandated testing, or risk losing Title I money from a US Department of Education headed by Betsy DeVos, who selectively promotes, “I trust parents and students, not Washington.”

DeVos is Washington, which is evident when it comes to ESSA, parents and students and opting out of Washington-mandated testing.

carrot-with-stick-2

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Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

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Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

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Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

7 Comments
  1. Threatened Out West permalink

    Therein lies the problem. Utah truly needs that federal money, as there is no way that the state legislature would fund the money if the ESSA money was lost, and Utah is 50th out of 51st in per pupil expenditure (we have been 51st for years, but an increase in funding this year put us above Idaho. Not that schools actually see that money anyway).

    The comments in the article are frustrating, as it seems that the people commenting believe that tests actually “show” anything. The students know better. They know that the only thing the tests do is grade schools, and no one cares about that. Many of them who do take the test just play around and get done really fast. And state law says that there must be no backlash to opting out of the tests, and that the tests cannot be used to determine any student’s grade. I agree with this, but what are we as teachers supposed to say now?

    • And in our district the “solution” has been to punish students when they don’t spend hours and hours on their tests: no reading, no drawing, no homework, no creative play, no heads on the desks

    • Threatened Out West permalink

      That may be illegal according to Utah state law, which not only allows parents to opt out, but also states that there can be no consequences suffered by the students whose parents have opted them out. Not only that, state law also says that there can be no positive consequences for students who take the test.

  2. John Plencner permalink

    One of the problems I have with testing is what the results mean. What is the standard that students are being evaluated against? In mathematics, it appears to b Algebra II. In California, the requirement for graduation in passing Algebra I. Algebra II is a requirement for attaining an AA degree, or for admission into a 4-year college or university. It seems to me that the rating is not very meaningful. Would it not make more sense to evaluate what level of mastery the students have obtained rather than rating them against a standard the demands course work that the majority will never take?

  3. LisaM permalink

    They tried to pull this with me at my first Refusal (we don’t have opt-out in the state of MD). I basically told them that it was illegal to give a grade to a student who didn’t take the test and who wasn’t even present in the testing room. I consulted an attorney who told me to contact him if this happened. Guess what…..no “0” was given……the area where the score should be was left blank. It takes parents threatening with a lawsuit before the school system will acquiesce. Guess what else….the private school that my son will attend for HS didn’t ask about all the missing test scores (I would much rather stay in public school, but I have waited long enough for change!)

    • Threatened Out West permalink

      I’m glad it worked out for you. BUT, this is the feds making the demands for a state that already allowed opt out. This will just mean enormous pressure will be put on parents who want to opt out. We’ve opted our kids out for years, with very little pressure. Fortunately, our youngest is a rising senior, so we won’t have to deal with the pressure. But there will be all kinds of pressure and even lies (“you can’t opt your kid out”) being stated now in Utah, not because the districts are truculent, but because Utah has been threatened with removal of federal funds (and we need all the help that we can get) if too many opt out. Even though state law expressly allows it.

      • Carla permalink

        Crazy! On Long island, in New York over 80% of kids have been opted out of testing. A huge # of schools all across Long island have the majority of students that have opted out and guess what? Long Island did not lose any federal funding! Scare tactics galore!! 🙄

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