Assembly Committee Sets Hearing on “Testing Opt-Out” Bill

The Assembly Education Committee has scheduled a public hearing on Assembly Bill 239 to require school boards, upon request from a parent or guardian, to excuse any pupil enrolled in grades 3 through 12 from taking any required assessments of knowledge and concepts. The bill is authored by committee chairman, state Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac). The hearing is set for Thursday June 4, at 10:00 a.m. in Room 417 North, State Capitol.

Under current state law, upon request from a parent or guardian, a school board must excuse a pupil in 4th, 8th, 9th, 10th, or 11th grade from taking the assessments required by state law to be administered to pupils in that grade. However, it is currently up to individual school boards to set policy for their district with regard to parental requests to excuse students from federally required testing. This bill would specifically require a school board to excuse pupils from federally-required testing as well as state-required testing.

(State law currently requires annual testing of pupils in 4th, 8th, 9th, 10th, or 11th grades. The federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, or “No Child Left Behind”)—requires pupils to be tested annually in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school.)

The WASB is currently monitoring this bill and has not yet taken a position. Because state law cannot supersede or overrule federal law, it is unclear what impacts this bill might produce. While the WASB recognizes parents have interests in this area, we are weighing those interests against potential harm to a school or the district if, for example, it might become subject to federal sanctions for failing to test 95 percent of pupils as required under the ESEA.

The bill raises unanswered questions. It is unclear, for example, what sanctions the federal Department of Education might impose (e.g., loss of federal aid) if the number of students opting out of federally required testing in a school or a school district exceeds more than 5 percent of students. It is also unclear how this situation might change if Congress completes its already in-progress rewrite of the ESEA during the current Congressional session.