Is ‘opt out’ option for PARCC school testing legal?

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Students’ and parents’ protests against the state’s latest standardized testing are gaining momentum with more walkouts planned in the coming days.

However, there’s confusion over what happens to kids and their parents who opt out of the test and what happens to schools that let kids and parents know they can opt out? Some wonder if it is even legal to skip the test.

The answer to those questions really depends on who you ask. While both state and federal statutes require students to take the tests, some districts are continuing to let parents call the shots.

“Say no to PARCC! Say no to PARCC!” chanted a group of students outside of the State Capitol in Santa Fe on Tuesday following a walkout of standardized testing.

PARCC testing has been the talk of school across New Mexico all week long from protests in person and online.

“PARCC testing is unfair,” said Jaidan King, a tenth grade student at Capitol High School in Santa Fe.

“Standardized testing doesn’t improve student achievement,” said Kristen Kohlstruk, a parent with students in Albuquerque Public Schools.

“I don’t think we need a test. I think we need more learning time,” said Anna Gilboard, a fifth grader from Bandelier Elementary School in Albuquerque.

“We’re more than just data,” said a Santa Fe high school student.

PARCC is the latest computerized federal student test being used across New Mexico. 2015 marks the first year the state has ever rolled it out.

The state plans to use the test results to grade teachers and schools, however, a lot of parents hate that idea.

“It’s created an environment that’s hard for anyone to thrive in,” said Susanne Garcia Pino, a parent at Bandelier Elementary.

Hundreds of Santa Fe high school students walked out on the PARCC tests this week. Now, Albuquerque Public Schools students are planning a mass walkout and protests next week at schools including Highland and Del Norte high schools. Artesia High School students have also reported that they too plan to walkout in protest soon.

Meanwhile, parents are busy handing out “opt out” forms in front of schools and distributing links about the forms in person.

But is “opting out” even legal? According to state and federal law, students must participate in standardized testing and cannot opt out.

Despite that, Albuquerque, Rio Rancho and Las Cruces are all among a group of school districts that have made “opt out” forms available for parents.

On Las Cruces Public Schools’ form, the district even wrote, “Federal and state laws require all students to participate in state accountability assessments,” and “These laws do not offer an exemption or right of refusal to test.”

Despite the legal questions, all of the districts have forms available. APS still has a formed posted on its own website as well. While APS wouldn’t do an on-camera interview, the district told KRQE News 13 Wednesday that the state hasn’t complained about any laws being broken by letting students opt out.

Meanwhile, others are calling “opt outs” civil disobedience. In a recent op-ed published this week, Democratic Senator Howie Morale wrote, “According to the U.S.14th Amendment of the Constitution, parents do have a say, and their rights are protected by supreme court decision.”

KRQE News 13 requested an interview with the New Mexico Public Education Department early Wednesday through phone and email. 30 minutes before the story aired, a spokeswoman declined to answer any questions. In part, PED said, “PED supports those districts that have made the decision to act in accordance with the law.” The department refused to clarify its position on districts allowing students to “opt-out.”

Adding to the confusion, some schools are telling parents that if their kids opt out of the test it will be considered an excused absence. Others say it will count as a unexcused absence.

As of Wednesday, APS reports that 800 students have opted out of the PARCC testing. Rio Rancho reported 30 students opting out. Las Cruces reported that 197 students have opted out. Santa Fe Public Schools told News 13 that 5 students had turned in opt-out forms.

Wednesday Night, APS released the following statement:

We are aware of campaigns on social media encouraging students to participate in walkout protests of PARCC tests. Albuquerque Public Schools respects the right of individuals to demonstrate as long as the demonstrations are safe, orderly and don’t require students to lose academic time. Students need to be in class during school hours.

So there is no confusion in the days ahead we want to explain how student protests will be handled.

PARCC testing will begin on Monday, March 2 as planned. These tests are mandated by the State of New Mexico. Any student who doesn’t have an excused absence during testing week will receive a zero on the portion of the test missed. A decision to participate in a protest during class time will result in an unexcused absence.

Also, please be aware that schools cannot be responsible for the safety and security of students if they choose to leave their school campus.

With 142 campuses we can expect that each demonstration will be dealt with individually. However, under no circumstance will vandalism or disorderly conduct be tolerated.

APS has not turned a deaf ear to the many opinions about PARCC testing, but the fact remains that the tests are mandatory and will be used to assess student performance and will also be reflected in teacher evaluations and the overall school grade.

We are public schools so we embrace social engagement. Your opinion always matters. We ask that you consider the many options you have to be heard:

Write a letter to your school board member, legislator or other elected official;
Register to vote and exercise that right;
Attend public meetings to voice your concerns;
Organize a petition drive;
Contact local media to express your concerns.
We encourage you to discuss the information provided here with your student so he/she understands how APS will proceed should there be student protests in the immediate future.

It’s impossible in public education to find agreement on the myriad of issues we deal with, but we all value safety and respect. Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

– Dr. Brad Winter, Interim Superintendent

KRQE.com provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s