The school board approved a procedure Monday night for students to refuse standardized testing.
Under state and federal law, all students must take the tests – there is no official opt-out policy – but Assistant Superintendent Julie Spencer presented a plan for those who choose not to participate.
Before the test, parents and students can meet with the principal to discuss their decision and submit a Notification of Refusal form. The students will still attend school and sit for the test, but they can leave the answer sheet blank.
The choice comes with some potential consequences. Students who do not take the test will receive the lowest score. For high school students, end-of-course tests count as 20 percent of their final grade.
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Superintendent Bert L’Homme also pointed out that refusals, and the low scores that come with them, would affect the schools ratings.
“For a school that’s struggling to get out of the low-performing status, get out of being designated an F, it’s going to be hard for us to explain that, by the way, half of the kids didn’t take the test,” he said.
This process aims to give students a way to reject testing and give schools a way to track low scores due to refusal.
“There are differing levels of concerns across the district among families,” board Chair Heidi Carter said in an interview. “There is a fairly small proportion of families that are actively following this politically who would be serious about opting out.”
“I know our board over time has always had some level of concern about using test scores for making high-stakes decisions regarding hiring and firing of teachers, for example,” Carter said. “We’re still looking at the school level to find the right balance between a formative assessment and being in danger of overtesting so that there’s less time for instruction.”
“The one positive of high-stakes standardized testing is it has shown a bright light on the achievement gaps by race and class and special needs and English language learners,” she said. “We now know there are disparities in academic achievement.”
‘The big picture’
Although the school board cannot waive the requirement to test, the board wanted to make sure parents and students are given all the information they need to decide whether or not to refuse testing.
“Students and parents don’t always realize how their decisions may come back later on, and we have a responsibility to make sure they see the big picture in their decisions,” Spencer said.
But some board members were concerned that the language about the consequences was too strong in the letter and form provided to parents.
“This movement of parents and students that are nationally organizing to conscientiously object to this overtesting culture are actually impacting some changes,” board member Natalie Beyer said. “I don’t want us to have bought into it so much and to be communicating that in our materials that we’re not completely respecting parents and families that make different decisions.”
Beyer suggested altering a clause in the Notification of Refusal form that said “test scores will be used for decisions regarding placement, scheduling, and accessing extracurricular opportunities.” The board chose to replace “will” with “may.”
“To me, what people are requesting is support in civil disobedience,” board member Sendolo Diaminah said. “I think if you want to engage in civil disobedience in order to oppose what’s happening to kids and to education in our system right now, that’s your right to fight those things.”
But Diaminah doesn’t want efforts to fight state testing to do more harm than good.
“As an organizer, it doesn’t seem like good tactics,” he said. “I’m not convinced this is the best way to take down the structured testing in our state.”
A school district spokesman this week said DPS does not know at the district level how many students opted out of standardized tests last school year.