U.S. Department of Education Weighs in Against an Oregon Bill which would Make it Easier for Students to Opt Out of Testing

The question of the ability of students to “opt out” of mandated standardized testing is one that occupied many school districts during Connecticut’s most recent round of statewide testing. The U.S. Department of Education has now weighed in on this issue in response to efforts in Oregon to enable parents to opt out of standardized testing more easily.

A bill currently in the Oregon House of Representatives, HB 2655, would require schools to notify parents at the start of the school year of any standardized testing that their children will face. In addition, thirty days before the tests, school districts would be required to send parents information on how to opt out their children from testing. The bill would also allow parents to opt out their child without citing a basis for the requested opt out, eliminating a current requirement that parents must cite a religious justification for opting out. Finally, the bill would require two performance ratings for schools with a high rate of opt outs, with one of the two ratings not showing the penalty (schools that have too few students taking the test are penalized in state performance rankings) for testing too few students.

Oregon currently receives $140 million a year in Title I funding. In order to continue to receive these funds, Oregon is required to test every student in grades 3 through 8, and grade 11, in reading and math each year. The state also has to create and follow a plan to downgrade the performance ratings of schools if they don’t test at least 95% of their students in each demographic category. The more lenient opt out rules contained in HB 2655 would almost certainly result in many, if not most, of Oregon schools failing to meet the 95% target.

In an email to Oregon school’s chief, Rob Saxton, Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, Deborah Delisle, warned Oregon that it was at risk of losing federal funds if the legislature votes to approve HB 2655. Delisle wrote that the proposed bill was “proactively encouraging parents to opt students out of assessments and failing to hold districts and schools accountable.” According to Delisle, all $325 million of Oregon’s annual federal funding could be withheld as result, with the Title I funds in the greatest jeopardy. Given the stance of the Department of Education, the issue of standardized testing and the right of parents to “opt out” their children is not going away.