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No legal requirement to take standardized tests, R.I. educators say

Susan Notes:

Parents in other states should pursue this angle: "Show me the law requiring students to take the Common Core test.

Reader Comment: Snider claims that these standardized tests are analogous to an annual visit to the pediatrician. There is a fatal flaw to this analogy. During an annual checkup, it is the DOCTOR who decides what tests and procedures are needed, based on her professional knowledge and her understanding of individual patient needs. During the standardized "academic check up," it is the State, in collusion with corporate entities that profit from this movement, that decides what tests are needed. The professional, the teacher, who knows her students' needs, strengths, weaknesses, and myriad other things that don't come with the job description, is left out of the process.

Jan. 14, 2015

By Linda Borg


PROVIDENCE-- Throughout the country, as opposition to standardized testing has spread, thousands of parents have pulled their children from such assessments.

In Rhode Island, education officials said Tuesday they expect students to take standardized tests, but also said there is no law requiring them to do so.

The issue was raised Saturday in a Providence Journal commentary by Sheila Resseger, a retired teacher from Cranston. Resseger asked Phyllis Lynch, the director of instruction, assessment and curriculum at RIDE, whether refusal to participate in the new state test would have a negative impact on students.

According to Resseger, Lynch, on Sept. 18, wrote, "We expect all students to participate in state assessments but no law requires participation."

In a follow-up email on Sept. 24, Lynch later wrote that "...Opting out of participation in state assessments, under current state laws and regulations, will not affect a student's placement, grade retention or receipt of special services, nor will opting out affect a teacher̢۪s evaluation."

On Tuesday, state education officials said while students are not required to take the state test, there is also no formal "opt-out" provision.

Deputy Education Commissioner David Abbott explained that there are very few requirements, other than attendance, related to public schooling.

But things like testing, whether it̢۪s the New England Common Assessment Program or Algebra 1, are part of a social contract between a family and a school, according to Mary Ann Snider, who heads the division of educator excellence and instructional effectiveness at RIDE.

However, refusing to take an Algebra test has consequences such as a lower grade. Right now, failing to take the state test doesn't carry any penalties.

But what happens in 2017, when the new state test, Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, could become part of high school graduation requirements?

(The state's proposed high school regulations, which are under review, say that districts can impose the PARRC [sic] as a graduation requirement as early as 2017, although 2020 remains the statewide requirement).

Elliot Krieger, a spokesman for education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist, said, "We do not have details at this time as to precisely how we will use state assessments within the diploma system for these classes and beyond."

RIDE educators said if a parent wants to opt out of the state test, that parent would be urged to have a conversation with the student's principal. The hope is that the principal could explain the importance of participating in a state test.

"The PARRC doesn't take place in a parallel universe," Abbott said. The test is closely linked to what children are learning in the classroom. The assessment measures the skills contained in the state's new academic standards, the Common Core, which have been adopted by numerous other states.

Snider said if a parent chooses not to have his child take the state test, that parent is missing an opportunity to see how his child is doing academically.

"It's an academic check-up," Snider said, analogous to an annual visit to the pediatrician.

With the PARRC, Rhode Island will not only be able to measure a student's performance against his or her peers in Rhode Island but against the performance of students in other states.

Only two states, California and Wisconsin, have an explicit opt-out provision for students, according to Monty Neill, executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a non-profit that is highly critical of standardized testing.

Neill said, "The typical state is silent on the issue."

"The essential story is parents have the right to opt out," he said. "There is no law prohibiting it. How that will be done and what happens to the kids who do so remains to be seen."

Neill said some states have taken a hard line against students who opt out. In New York City and Chicago, schools with large numbers of low-income and minority students have pressured families to make sure their children take the state test, claiming the districts will otherwise lose federal money.

In Chicago, he said, some schools have questioned students if they chose not to participate.

Approximately 60,000 parents in New York opted out of a new standardized test last spring. In Colorado, students in three school districts boycotted the test.

At least four states, including Rhode Island, have repealed or delayed graduation testing requirements, according to the Center for Fair and Open Testing

"What we're having here is a debate over what schools and cannot do," Neill said. "Parents are saying (this degree of testing) is unreasonable. You're hurting my child emotionally and psychologically. There is no social contract that says parents have to put up with educational malpractice."

Neill also said that any large-scale, state-mandated test is very different from a test in English or Algebra 1.

"They are not the same thing," he said, "and no one in the real world believes" that they are.

— Linda Borg
Providence Journal



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