19 Congressmen Reassert Parents and Students’ Right to Opt-Out of High Stakes State Assessments
On 2/16/2016, the executive director of the State Board of Education Dr. Karol Schmidt, without authorization from the Board, testified before the Senate Ed. Committee quoting from a 12/22/2015 letter from the U.S. Department of Education. She reiterated threats in the letter signed by Ann Whalen, which indicated certain financial and other punitive measures that Arizona could use against schools in order to force at least 95% participation of students in academic assessments. Dr. Schmidt's "message" was loud and clear to Arizona Senators: Do NOT allow parents the right to Opt their children out of AzMERIT! If your child has been coerced by teachers and other school officials into taking AzMERIT, this would explain one of the many reasons for it.
New York Congressman Tom Reed, who had voted for the new ESSA law and disagreed with Ms. Whalen's interpretation, decided it was important to send a rebuttal, reasserting parents and students’ right to opt-out of high stakes federal testing. That rebuttal, which follows, was signed by 19 U.S. Congressmen, including Arizona Congressman Matt Salmon.
If you are a parent who has been denied your right to opt your child out of taking AzMERIT. If you are a parent whose child has been bullied by the school into taking AzMERIT, send this post to them. Send this post to the Arizona Senators who voted NO to your right to opt out of AzMERIT and any other standardized test based on Common Core (aka Arizona's College and Career Ready Standards.) Click HERE for a list of Senators, including contact information, who voted No to SB1455, the Parental Opt Out bill.
See below for the letter.
April 4, 2016
The Honorable John B. King, Jr., Secretary,
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20202
Dear Secretary King:
We have recently heard from educators, parents, and students in our congressional districts who are concerned with a letter sent by Ann Whalen to Chief State School Officers on December 22, 2015. In the letter, Ms. Whalen discusses existing ESEA testing requirements, as well as forthcoming guidelines in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), warning of financial penalties for states and school districts failing to reach certain testing targets. She also suggests punitive measures that State educational agencies can take if fewer than 95 percent of students participate in state assessments.
Given recent passage of the ESEA reauthorization legislation, the Every Student Succeeds Act, we are troubled by the tone and content of Ms. Whalen's letter. The Department seems to have misinterpreted congressional intent in this case, and does so with troubling consequence. While ESSA does provide for testing and accountability measures, the new law makes a fundamental change by giving individual states sole responsibility for determining the importance of the 95 percent requirement in school accountability.
In addition, ESSA states, "Nothing in this paragraph (assessments) shall be construed as preempting a State or local law regarding the decision of a parent to not have the parent's child participate in the academic assessments under this paragraph." (Section 1111(b)(2)(K)). The Every Student Succeeds Act is intended to empower parents and ensure that teachers, administrators, and school districts are given increased flexibility regarding student opt out. Hundreds of thousands of parents have chosen to keep their children from taking state-mandated tests, and these parents have every right to determine what is in their children's best interest.
No Child Left Behind created federally-mandated high stakes testing, to which parents, teachers, and students understandably recoiled. ESSA ends this federally-mandated high stakes testing, giving states and school districts more authority to determine the proper role for assessments in determining school quality, and full authority to determine their use for teacher effectiveness. As states and school districts begin work to implement this new law and address ongoing concerns about the role of testing in education, now is the time for the Department of Education to support states in this work.
Consequently, we write to remind the agency of our strong desire to ensure that the intent of the legislation is followed. We look forward to having a productive dialogue on this critical subject, and ultimately, ensuring a quality education for all students.
Signed by the following Members of Congress:
David P. Joyce
Dennis A Ross