- Though the Every Student Succeeds Act keeps achievement testing in place, the opt-out movement appears to be winding down for now as states begin to implement their own accountability plans, Education Week reports — but some still feel that states didn't take enough advantage of the additional flexibility offered.
- Some states that saw the highest number of students opt-out in the past actually saw participation rates increase last year, with New Jersey’s participation rate on math tests, for example, increasing from 86% in the 2014-15 school year to 95% in 2016-17.
- Under the No Child Left Behind Act, states were required to test all students, and schools that had less than a 95% participation rate were considered automatic failures — but ESSA simply requires that non-test-takers be marked as non-proficient in calculations, allowing each state to determine its own penalties for low participation rates.
Proponents of the opt-out movement seem to have made some headway in the way testing is treated under ESSA. In a 2016 interview published by the Network for Public Education Action, Senator Lamar Alexander’s Chief of Staff, David P. Cleary, shared some of the thinking behind the new testing rules:
“We tried to balance the concerns of those who supported the NCLB testing mandates (the civil rights groups, the disability groups, the business community, among others) against the concerns of those who were frustrated with overtesting (parents, teachers, students, and others). But our primary goal was to allow states, if they choose, to de-emphasize the importance of testing as the only indicator of school accountability. We hope that this will cause states to re-evaluate the number and types of tests that they require students to take, and make better decisions about how important any single test is for school accountability purposes. This, in turn, will help reduce the emphasis placed on testing, and restore to teachers the freedom to teach and students to learn.”
Over the past year, the opt-out movement has slowed down as states decided on their own approaches to testing and wrestled with budgetary uncertainty and changes to policy under a new administration. As the dust settles and state plans are approved, it seems that most states were cautious about testing changes and did not take full advantage of the flexibility offered under ESSA. However, that may change in the future as states tweak their plans.
States were able to mitigate some of the punitive effects of students who opted out of testing, though penalties remain. An analysis of state plans conducted by Education Week found that a dozen states plan to lower overall scores for schools not meeting the 95% test participation requirement. But EdWeek also notes that a few states where the movement was prominent haven't suggested similar penalties, with Colorado, for example, asking instead that schools falling below the participation threshold develop plans to address opt-outs and work to better inform the public.