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Hey, Vermont, Listen Up: The Child is More Important than the State

by Susan Ohanian

People like to assume that Vermont is a progressive state. Particularly since the state board of ed passed this Resolution on Vermont State Board of Education Statement and Resolution on the Appropriate Use of SBAC Standardized Tests and School Accountability.

But in March 2014 the State Education Agency declared just what wimps they are when they released this dreadful policy on Common Core testing. Just call it 'Blame the Feds.'

Participation in Statewide Assessments
Questions have been raised regarding the authority of parents to opt-out of statewide assessments on behalf of their children, and the authority of schools to condone such action or to enact policy allowing individual or school-wide non-participation in statewide assessments. The following information is provided for the purpose of assisting school administrators and school boards in responding to such questions.

In accordance with Title I of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, 20 U.S.C. § 6311 et seq., Vermont school districts are required to assess student performance using the assessment method(s) established by the State Board of Education, and all publicly funded students in Vermont, including those in independent schools, must participate in state assessments. See 16 V.S.A. §§ 165(a)(1) and 166(g); State Board of Education (SBE) Rule 2120.2.1; and the Operations Manual for the Vermont Accountability System Based on Student Achievement, (March 2011), page 16 (hereinafter the âAccountability Operations Manualâ).
Each school must account for 100% of its enrolled students at the grades designated for state assessment, see SBE Rule 2120.1, either by reporting a valid assessment score or by documenting a valid exemption. Valid exemptions are limited to ill health, personal crisis or family emergency. See the Accountability Operations Manual, page 15.

The term opt-out in relation to assessment does not appear anywhere in law and, therefore, even if contemplated by a local school administrator or local school board policy, it would be considered "parent refusal" under these rules. Because parent refusal is not among the valid assessment exemptions, such occurrence will result in a score of zero for calculating the schoolâs Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) Index, and the student will be considered a non-participant. This, of course, adversely effects school-wide results and increases the likelihood that the school will be identified as in need of improvement. In the event that a school's participation rate falls below 95%, the school will be determined to be in need of improvement and the State is required to work with the school for the purpose of developing an acceptable improvement plan addressing the insufficient participation rate. (Participation rate is defined as the number of students who were tested plus students with valid exemptions divided by the total enrollment for the tested grades). See 16 V.S.A. § 165(b); SBE Rule 2520; and the Accountability Operations Manual, pages 15 and 20.

Local policies or procedures that permit parent refusal will also have fiscal implications for the Local Education Agency. The State may only provide federal Title 1 subgrants to schools having a current plan in place that is approved by the Agency of Education. If a school's plan does not comply with the requirements for student assessment cited above, it cannot be approved and, therefore, would render the school ineligible to receive funds under Title 1. See 20 U.S.C. § 6312(a)(1). Additionally, in accordance with 16 V.S.A. § 4003, a school district that unreasonably refuses to comply with any requirement of law -- including those referenced above regarding assessment -- shall be denied state aid.

I'm getting a few queries from parents around the state about opting out. I've urged them to go ahead. As I said to the parent of a 12-year-old: "For the child, it is a time of great moral/ethical awakening. Nourish this."

I wish I could hug the teenager who asked how he could go about doing it on his own.

Of course the State Board of Ed's Resolution that the Smarter Balanced won't count for anything this year should bolster opt outs. The test doesn't count.

Always, always the Child is much more important than the State.

Isn't it ironic (and terrible) that Vermont honors parent opt out on vaccination but not on testing?

— Susan Ohanian




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