More on the Student Exam Notices and Opt-Out Bills

As noted in a previous post, Assembly Bill 304 and Assembly Bill 300 have been scheduled for a hearing next week.  This post explores the potential impact of these bills.

When Must an Opt-Out Be Granted Under Current Law?

The current state statute establishing a parental right to opt-out children from testing was enacted when the only required assessments were those required by state law.  It predates federal testing requirements enacted under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and continued under its successor, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  As a not-entirely-surprising result, current state law requires an opt-out to be granted only for state-mandated tests but not for testing that is federally-required under ESSA.

As the LRB analysis to  AB 304 states, “Under current law, a school board must, upon request from a parent or guardian, excuse a pupil in 4th, 8th, 9th, 10th, or 11th grade from taking the knowledge and concepts examination adopted by the state superintendent of public instruction that is required to be administered to pupils in that grade.”

AB 304 has been introduced because the current state statute is silent regarding the administration of state assessments required by federal law.  Thus, it is up to the discretion of each local school board (by policy) whether to grant an opt out for pupils in those grades–3, 5, 6, and 7–where testing is federally-required but not by state statute.  (Testing is not currently administered in grade 12.)  AB 304 would remove the discretion of the board to deny a parental request for pupils in those grades.

How Does Assembly Bill 304 Change Current Law?

Under the bill, whenever a parent or guardian of a student in any grade between grade 3 and grade 12 requests an opt-out for their child for any state or federally required assessment, the answer is yes.  For opt-out purposes, there would no longer be a distinction between tests required by state law and tests required by federal law.

How Does Granting Testing Opt-Outs Affect School Report Cards?

For state accountability (report card) purposes, non-tested students don’t count against the district or school except in the test participation calculation.  A school can lose points on the state report cards (a 5-point deduction) if its test participation falls below 95 percent; however, a individual student who opts out of taking a required assessment is not counted in the calculation (i.e., is left out of the calculation) of proficiency rates for his or her school or district.

By contrast, under ESSA, non-tested students count directly against the school.  They are counted as a “zero” for purposes of calculating proficiency.  This means: students who do not participate in required state testing, for any reason, including required opt-outs in response to a request by a parent or guardian, count “against” proficiency rates for federal accountability purposes.  This could affect whether the school or any subgroup of students within the school is deemed to be consistently under-performing , which in turn could affect whether a school is identified as in need of comprehensive support and improvement under ESSA.

Compliance with federal law requires that 95 percent of all students and subgroups of students are tested in each school.  The state, by submitting an application for funds under ESSA (the state plan), is entering into an agreement to meet the requirements of the law. Not complying with these requirements places the state’s federal funds potentially at risk. So the state has a stake in ensuring that 95 percent of all students and all subgroups are tested beyond simply ensuring the validity of the test results.

What Information Must Schools Currently Provide Parents Regarding Assessments?

Wisconsin school districts are required by section 118.30(1m)(d) of the state statutes to annually publish information on the district’s website about the state-required 4th, 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th grade examinations administered to students enrolled in the district.

School districts receiving federal Title I program funds are also newly required by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) (20 U.S.C. § 6312(e)2) to make widely available through public means (including posting on the district’s  website) information on each state and district-required assessment for each grade served by the district, including:

(1) the subject matter assessed;
(2) the purpose for which the assessment is designed and used;
(3) the source of the requirement for the assessment: and
(4) where such information is available:
(5) the amount of time students will spend taking the assessment and the schedule for the assessment, and
(6) the time and format for disseminating results.

Schools receive federal Title I aid when they have significant numbers of students from low-income families.  (All but a handful of the smallest K-8 districts in the state receive allocations under Title I, Part A.)

Title I districts are also newly required by the ESSA to annually notify parents and guardians that they may request information on any state or local policy regarding student participation in any state or district-required assessment, including any parental rights they may have to opt their child out of taking a required assessment.

How Does Assembly Bill 300 Change Current Law?

AB 300 would require that annually, using the best available information, each school board must prepare a summary written in commonly understood language that includes all of the following:

  1. Each examination required under state or federal law that will be administered to pupils enrolled in the school district, as well as:
  • The grade level to which each of these examination swill be administered;
  • The expected date(s) on which each of these examination will be administered;
  • The duration of each examination;
  • The process the school board uses to determine an appropriate alternative in-school activity for pupils who have been excused from taking each of these examinations;
  • The school board’s policies and procedures regarding parents or guardians opting a pupil out of any of these examinations; and
  • The purpose of administering each of these examinations and a description of how the school board will use data derived from each of these examinations.
  1. Each examination required by the school board to assess pupil, school, or school district performance that will be administered to pupils enrolled in the school district except an examination that counts toward a grade or score for a class or that is required for high school graduation.

AB 300 would also require school boards to post this summary on the district’s website and would require that annually, before a school board administers an examination required to be included in the summary, the school board must provide the parent or guardian of each pupil enrolled in the district a copy of the summary the board prepared for that school year or instructions on how to access or obtain the summary.

These provisions would first apply to examinations administered during the 2017-18 school year.

There is considerable overlap between the current provisions in federal law and the provisions proposed in the bill.  For example, the requirements to provide information about the purpose for administering each state or federally required examination and the duration of these examinations are nearly identical as is the requirement to provide information about where the summary is available/can be accessed.