Can I Opt My Child Out of Smarter Balanced? Yes. But No. It’s Complicated.

broken pencil
Pictured: The deep symbolism intended in this photo is especially so, as I think the new assessments are supposed to be computerized. Hey, I graduated in ’97. Just go with it.  (Image Credit: M. Dunn)

Yesterday fellow blogger Elise posted her personal thoughts about standardized testing in the public schools and how she’s not going to let some numbers on a page impact her view of children’s real educational progress and well-being at school.  But what about the hundreds of parents who want to opt their kids out of standardized testing altogether?

Here in Connecticut, this year is the pilot year for implementation of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Test, which is set to replace the current state standardized tests, the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) in 2015.  Yep, by “pilot” year I mean that this year’s testing doesn’t count, although school districts are still required to administer it.  It is a practice run-through to work out the bugs before school districts throughout the state become obligated to actually start using it to track student achievement (or, you know, alignment to the Common Core or whatnot) next year.

Here in CT, as elsewhere, there have always been parents who, for various and sundry reasons, choose not to have their kids sit for the assessments.  For example, some children have fairly severe disabilities, and their parents don’t want them to needlessly waste time and energy suffering through the assessment.  With the advent of Smarter Balanced testing, the state is seeing a large uptick in parents seeking to have their children excluded from the exam.  In response, a December 2013 memorandum from our State Department of Education outlined a protocol for school districts to follow in addressing the rising number of parent inquiries into how to opt out, although from what I understand, the State is no longer circulating this memo.

I won’t add much more to the detailed commentary on this topic; in fact, if you want more background, you should just click here.  And actually, the topic of my post is really the same as this one:  answering the question of whether students can be opted out.  Jonathan Pelto’s post also includes the now-removed SDE memo, and some sample language parents can use to communicate to their local school districts that they will not be allowing their child to sit for the test.  The loose consensus now seems to be that while the school districts have been given a directive to administer the assessment to as many students as possible, if a parent insists that their child not take the test, the school district really cannot force the child to do so.  Simply put, there is no penalty if you “opt out,” even if you’re being told by the school that there is no way to opt out.

Let me stop here and say that I am not expressing an opinion one way or another on the question of whether any parent should or should not opt their kid out of the exam.  You guys know I’m just a lawyer mom on the Internet, right?  Do your own research and decide what’s best for your child.  My kids are not even beyond their preschool years yet, so I’ve derived most of my knowledge of standardized testing during the course of my work and from talking to other parents.  But if you have already decided that you don’t want your child to take Smarter Balanced (or CMT/CAPT, for the districts still giving it this year), then you should be aware of the somewhat ambiguous and varying stances being taken by parents, individual school districts, and the State on this topic.


7 thoughts on “Can I Opt My Child Out of Smarter Balanced? Yes. But No. It’s Complicated.

  1. As a public school teacher and mom of two little ones, I worry that talk of “opting out” perpetuates fear of the test that is unwarranted. The more students who take the pilot, the more accurate the data is collected by the states and Smarter Balanced Consortium. Perhaps I’m an idealist, but I believe that information will be used to revise and reshape the test to create a valid assessment tool. In this way, when we encourage our children to embrace all opportunities in school–to complete universal assessments, to learn among students with special needs, to learn to work with teachers and students they may not “like”–we are teaching them life skills. By allowing them to opt out of pieces of their education they, or parents, don’t at first see the value in, we may send the message that we can not learn from others’ expertise, setting a dangerous precedent regarding how these children will grown and handle future challenges. Testing is stressful, but it can be an amazing opportunity to check your skills against national standards–not as a deciding factor regarding your character or potential for success, but as a check-in, a building block for your future accomplishments.

    I’m pretty pro-Common Core, so I understand my perspective is biased, and I am genuinely interested to understand more about why people are opting out of the test (which I know wasn’t the point of your post). I just find this to be a great forum for an honest and thoughtful exchange of ideas, so I felt compelled to jump in! By pro-CC, I am pro the document and the skills measured within my area of expertise–secondary English education. The drive to implement CCSS in my district is really coming from teachers; I know other districts and certainly elementary school teachers are feeling the shift to be a bit more abrupt and outside of their control.

    I agree with the earlier comment, teachers do collect first-hand data every day, and I certainly advocate putting more credence in anecdotal evidence gathered and reported by trained professionals–kids aren’t numbers and factors that affect test scores stretch well beyond the scope of the classroom. However, I have really come around to the idea of universal testing (occasionally and well-balanced) as a means for teachers to step back and look at their students’ skills with a broader understanding of how kids across the nation are performing. Our downfall will be if we use test scores to punish and judge as opposed to learn and grown.

    1. I do whole-heartedly agree with all of this as it applies after 6th grade, but I do not think standardized tests, especially on a computer, are at all developmentally appropriate prior to middle school. I think the CC standards, with their top-down approach, make a lot of sense and will lead to positive changes from 6th grade on, but I think the early childhood/elementary piece of this desperately needs to be re-worked to meet the very different needs of younger students. Students really, really do need to learn that doing things they may not like is part of school, but we also have to make sure the things we are asking of them are things that are reasonable for their developmental level. And of course, it’s my hope that the scores will be used to learn and grow, but I have concerns about the use of the data for both teachers and students.

  2. This is fascinating to me because I’ve proctored oodles of tests, make up tests, taught practice tests … I don’t think I ever knew parents could opt out. Maybe I did in the back of my cluttered mind, but I’ve never seen it happen, which seems to suggest parents largely do not know they have this option. As always thanks for your great post.

    1. Thank you Steph! It is worth looking at the SDE memo to get a sense for how the issue might be handled by individual districts. I think the bottom line is that, while it’s technically required that everyone take it, there is also no penalty to the parents/student for sitting it out. There is pressure on local districts to make everyone take the test, so that’s probably why this issue has not been well publicized until recently.

  3. So hypothetically, of course (snicker, snicker), would one go about opting out by keeping their children home that day? Or submitting a letter? I had a professor in grad school suggest parents would have to write a letter stating something about “we will be homeschooling during the week of the CMTs” or whichever test you’re opting out of to avoid being in trouble for truancy. Would the kids go to school and just read a book or something? This is all really interesting to me!

    1. If you click on the links to Jon Pelto’s blog, he describes it in detail and also has sample language parents can use to submit a letter to their district stating their intention to refuse their child’s participation in the exam. Sorry if I didn’t go into that in detail … just felt like the topic was already covered elsewhere, so I admit this was a bit of a lazy post. ;P But it’s interesting because this opens the door for school districts to handle the situation differently. The SDE memo pretty much says that students are going to be deemed “absent” whether they are actually in school or not on the day of the test. Other districts may try to work something out with the parents in terms of getting their consent to provide some alternative activity on test day – but their biggest concern seems to be proving to the state that they tried everything to get the kid to take it, but the parent or guardian adamantly refused. In other words, the district can’t make it look like they just rolled over and said ok, you get to opt out. Because there is no opt out, according to them. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out in actual practice.

      1. Got it! I missed that link before– thanks. I read somewhere that districts are required to have 95% participation of students to be eligible for Race to the Top funds. A part of me would feel tremendous guilt for potentially throwing a monkey wrench in that, especially in a small district, but aside from that, do you know of any other real reasons the school would need the scores? I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. I guess it could also potentially damage the all-important “great schools score” if your child was proficient and opted out (note sarcasm about great schools score weight, haha). As far as data gathering and ability data for my kiddos, um, there are a solid 175 other school days when the teachers see this first-hand. I guess I don’t see much case FOR taking them.

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