US Dept. Of Ed Issues Testing Compliance Ultimatum | Eastern North Carolina Now

Publisher's note: This post, by A.P. Dillon, was originally published in the Articles, Education, and Issues sections of Civitas's online edition.

 The U.S. Department of Education has issued a testing compliance ultimatum to several states, including North Carolina, and the ultimatum includes the threat of legal action. This activity is tied to controversial re-authorization of No Child Left Behind, known as Every School Succeeds Act (ESSA).

 Lawmakers had touted that ESSA would return schools to local control; however, when it comes to testing, this is definitely not the case.

 Testing compliance under ESSA is essentially the same as it was under NCLB. States are required to have at least 95 percent of students participate in standardized tests for the purpose of "accountability." The U.S. Department of Education has tied federal Title I funding to the administration of these tests and the 95 percent compliance threshold.

 In December 2015, the U.S. Department of Education sent letters to more than a dozen state school chiefs whose states had fallen below the 95 percent threshold in the prior year. The letters included threats of loss of funding should the state not comply going forward.

 North Carolina was included in this list alongside Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, Wisconsin, Delaware, Idaho, New York, Colorado, California, Connecticut, Maine and Illinois.

 What's interesting is that just recently John King, the acting Secretary of U.S. Department of Education, put out a video statement calling for "less testing." Mr. King appears to be trying to play "Good Cop/ Bad Cop." Of note, this is the same John King who was the education commissioner in New York and was chased out of the state by parents opposing Common Core and the testing Opt-Out Movement.

 When asked about the Title I letter, DPI Communications Director Vanessa Jeter noted that the following testing areas and she included the participation rates:

  • ACT: English language learners (93%) and students with disabilities (94%)
  • ACT WorkKeys: English language learners (92%)
  • Grade 10 Mathematics: English language learners (93%)

 At my request, Ms. Jeter provided a copy of North Carolina's response letter, which verifies this summary. At the end of the response was this paragraph, mentioning that North Carolina does not have an "Opt Out" policy: "North Carolina continues to stress the expectation that all students participate in the state assessments. There is not an opt-out policy and when asked about opting out by parents and other stakeholders, the consistent response is that all students participate in the assessments. In March 2015, the Deputy State Superintendent, Dr. Rebecca Garland, sent a memo to district superintendents and charter school directors affirming North Carolina does not have an opt-out policy (Attachment 8)."

 It is true North Carolina does not have an "Opt Out" policy. What it does seem to have is a "your child will be given the test regardless of refusal" policy. Read Dr. Garland's 2014 letter to the school districts.

 In North Carolina, the testing window for any given state test can be upwards of a week long. This is arguably done in order to force higher compliance rates to make it more difficult for parents who wish to opt their child out to keep their children home on testing days, lest they run afoul of truancy charges.

 North Carolina's testing policy also attaches penalties should a student attempting to opt out simply leaves the answer sheet blank. The student will receive the lowest possible score and the assessment will have a value of up to 20 percent of the student's grade.

 State policy leaves the penalty up to the individual school to administer. Parents who are concerned about over-testing or are considering opting their child out should inquire with their individual schools about which tests may have grade values added to them.

 I've recently been made aware of schools in Wake County using a rather unofficial "parental opt out agreement" form. To my knowledge, the NC Department of Public Instruction requires no such letter nor has published one. Parents being offered this letter should question its function and source.

 The Opt Out Movement that was so huge in New York state and saw over 20,000 students opting out of Common Core aligned tests last year has not yet really manifested in North Carolina. New York's push back was loud and very public. It was in response to concerns about the online test methods, the validity of the scoring and even the quality of the questions themselves.

 Perhaps one reason the Opt Out Movement hasn't hit North Carolina is because the public tends to associate Common Core with the two testing consortia, SBAC and PARCC.

 North Carolina's legislature blocked funding for the SBAC. However, DPI went ahead and did a pilot test. The following year, allegedly, the state's End of Grade and End of Course tests in math and English language arts were quietly Common Core-aligned.

 Opt out or opt in? Either way, it is clear that both state and federal education entities are going to attempt to force compliance.
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