Opt-out movement is slowing as states gain more control of testing requirements
- While some states are reducing the number of testing days, federal testing requirements have not changed much and the "opt out" movement appears to be slowly fading, according to NPR Ed's examination of the impact of the opt-out movement two years after its height.
- In New York, a state where the opt-out movement has been the strongest, roughly 21% of eligible students between 3rd and 8th grade opted out in 2016 ,while 19% opted out in 2017 and the number is expected to continue dropping as new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provisions kick in and states work to shrink testing time and impacts.
- The impact of opting out is murkier across the nation as no real research has been done, but the movement has opened up a discussion about the value and impact of testing and several states are looking at ways to streamline tests as much as possible.
The opt-out movement seems to have been well-intentioned, but those intentions are not really clear to the public at large. A survey conducted in August revealed that while most Americans have heard of the opt-out movement, the majority did not support it and most misunderstood the reason parents opted out. Parents who opt out are generally affluent parents who say they are concerned that testing effects their children's learning experience and puts too much pressure on teachers who are judged by testing results.
However, federal testing policies generally require at least 95% participation on these tests. The opt-out movement puts a strain on schools trying to meet these requirements which can affect performance ratings and funding down the line. There is wisdom on both sides of this issue. High-stakes testing does take a toll on everyone in the system, but verifiable data is also needed to evaluate teacher, school and district performance in order to determine what changes and resources are needed.
The testing issue is evolving at this point as states have been finalizing their ESSA plans for the Department of Education. Under ESSA, states will have more flexibility regarding testing and its impact. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos commented in March: "I think it's really a matter for the states to wrestle with, to decide how and how frequently the testing is actually done." However, the 95% participation level still remains in regard to federal funding issues and some states, like Colorado, are choosing to adopt both a state and federal quality rating system as a result. Once the dust settles on the new ESSA plans, local school administrators will face the challenge of explaining the new testing impacts and the need for student participation in the testing process.