U.S. Department of Education Rejects Colorado Testing Opt-out Waiver Request

The Denver Post reports that Colorado schools could face financial or other consequences after the U.S. Department of Education rejected the state’s request for a waiver to federal education law so it could give a break to districts with large numbers of students opting out of state tests.

In February, the Colorado state Board of Education voted to direct the state education department to hold districts “harmless” if opt-outs drop student participation below required levels of at least 95 percent. Districts can face a lowering of accreditation and other sanctions, and schools may be given improvement plans if requirements are not met. After the vote, the department sought to amend its waiver to the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or No Child Left Behind.

In response, Assistant Secretary of Education Deborah Delisle wrote Friday to Colorado Education Commissioner Robert Hammond that the federal law doesn’t exempt certain districts from accountability requirements.

The feds’ letter adds a wrinkle to a debate about Colorado state legislation that would allow opting out of state tests.

Here in Wisconsin, Assembly Education Committee chair, Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac), has suggested he may introduce similar legislation to explicitly allow students in grades 3,  5, 6 and 7 to opt out of state tests.

State law requires testing for students in grades 4, 8, 9, 10 and 11. Federal law also requires testing of students in grades 3, 5, 6 and 7 in reading, language arts and math.

Wisconsin law covering when a student can opt out refers only to grades where testing is required by the state. The Department of Public Instruction says on its website that it’s up to schools to decide whether to let students opt out from being tested in the other grades.