As Parents Push Back, 'Opt-Out' Policies Still Unclear For Many States

Mar 24, 2015

Education Commission of the States

Like in New Hampshire, states across the country are rolling out new assessments this spring aligned with the Common Core.

But whether parents have the right opt out of those tests can vary state by state.

A study released earlier this month found that while some states have clear guidelines on whether children are required to participate, other states’ policies are still evolving.

Julie Rowland is a researcher for the Education Commission of the States.

She co-authored that report and joined NHPR Morning Edition producer Michael Brindley to talk about what she found.

In your study, you look at the assessment opt-out policies of all 50 states. What did you find?

We found a really wide variety of information from states on whether opt-outs are allowed. In most states, they discourage opting out, but there are a couple of states that allow opt-outs for some exceptions like a medical emergency or a death in the family. And then there are at least two states that pretty explicitly allow parents to opt out for any reason.

Is it fair to say there’s some evolution in these policies?

Absolutely. This is sort of evolving even as we were producing the report. There were changes emerging as states figure out how best to respond to this issue. But definitely states are starting to develop clearer policies in response to a lot of parent concern.

Are we actually seeing a lot more parental inquiries about opting out of this testing?

We didn’t look into the rate of parental inquiry, but just keeping an eye on the trend, definitely we’re seeing a lot more parent concern.

I think this is definitely part of a larger trend around the Common Core as a controversy and sort of a pushback against over-testing and standardized tests.

Credit NYC Department of Technology / Flicker CC

What can you tell us about New Hampshire’s policy?

We did find that the New Hampshire Department of Education had said that opt-outs were not allowed. But it’s my understanding that a couple of districts have issued some guidance to parents saying while they are still prohibited from encouraging opt-outs, there won’t be any consequence to those students if they do opt out, which is an interesting variation in what we’re seeing. But it’s not uncommon at this point for there to be a discrepancy in policies as states try to figure out how they’re going to address this issue.

Is it common or have you seen that local versus state clash, where local officials want to take one viewpoint and state officials take a different viewpoint?

There’s definitely some confusion and states are trying to work to clarify to their districts exactly how to address the issue when it comes up.

Are there states where the answer is simply more clear, one way or the other? What are examples of that?

In Arkansas and Texas for example, those states clearly prohibit in state law opting out of assessments. California and Utah specifically allow parents to opt out for any reason, but like I said, there are a few other states there are other exemptions, such as a religious objection.

Do any of these states’ policies have any teeth? Are there states that actually impose consequences on students who skip the exam or want to opt out?

Right, and that’s sort of the crux of the issue. If states say that opt-outs are not allowed, then the question becomes what are the consequences. We really only found a couple of states where they highlighted specific consequences, such as Ohio, but then recently, Ohio has issued some guidance that there won’t be consequences to districts if they have a large number of opt-outs.