Opting Out Options – A Parent’s Rights and Responsibilities Part 1

This headline came across my twitter feed last week: Bixby School board OK’s testing opt out for parents.  My first thought was “Wow.  That’s amazingly unexpected!”

Soon after, okeducationtruth blogged their response.

And then the next morning, my twitter feed and FB timeline exploded with Rob Miller’s blog: We’ve Been ‘Opted Out’ – Really?!?!  It appears that Jenks and Owasso have been blessed with a free ticket out of the field tests item tryouts this spring and this blog post has been seen over 40,000 times.   The question is: how did Jenks and Owasso qualify for this district wide opt out?  Here is a little snippet of Mr. Miller’s Blog to answer that:

A conversation yesterday with an executive at the headquarters of Measured Progress revealed what I suspected. Measured Progress was given specific instructions by the Oklahoma State Department of Education to draw their testing sample from all districts in Oklahoma, with the exception of two school districts: Jenks and OwassoThis information has been confirmed separately through sources at the state department. It certainly appears that “someone” at the SDE knowingly excluded these two districts to avoid negative publicly associated with a possible parent opt-out this spring. Are you kidding me?!

My daughter is only in preK, so we are a few years away from any high stakes test (I hope).   But I have been listening and watching the discussions.  I would say the over/inappropriate use and over-abundance of High Stakes Testing is one of the top two or three problems facing public education today.

But there is hope. Parent can make the difference.  We have a voice.  We have to speak out and let our elected officials know what we feel.

Bixby Public Schools is making a huge step, even if all they are doing is laying out the facts so parents are informed.  Last spring, when Jenks Middle School’s PTA organized an opt out of the 7th grade geography test,  the State Department of Education was quick to accuse the principal, Rob Miller, of over-stepping his boundaries and encouraging parents to take this “extreme” measure.  This fall, they investigated his involvement and even threatened to revoke his teaching/administrator license.  Jenks Public Schools and Mr. Miller complied with all of their requests for email records but also responded to the accusations on his own blog as did other education bloggers.  To date, he is still the Principal at Jenks Middle School.

This is becoming a popular and confusing topic.  So as a parent, I wanted to know exactly where I stand.   And I want to help other parents be informed so they can make the best decision for their family.

Opting out of the Field Tests Item Tryouts

Parents and students have the right to opt-out of field tests item tryouts without penalty to the school or the student.

In the past, field test questions have been embedded within the test itself.  For example, the 8th grade math test had 60 questions, but each year 10 of those were field test questions and 50 live items.  Field test questions are not necessarily bad or harmful.  Every standardized test, including the ACT, SAT, GRE, and even the IOWA test have to field test items.  It is part of the process of creating fair and reliable tests.

The problem in OK is that those field test questions have been pulled out to be a separate testing session.   The State Department of Education has entered into a new contract with Measured Progress  and next year’s assessments for Math and English/Language Arts will be based on new standards and testing format.  Becuase of these changes, the new items/questions, can not be embedded with the current test and will be given as a separate (but shorter) assessments.

Currently, almost every OK  student in grades 3-8, Algebra 1, and English 2 will be given one “field test.”   If you feel strongly that your child should not take one of the field tests, let your school know as soon as possible that you would like to opt out them out. Each school may have a different procedure to document your request.  Most likely, you will be asked to write a letter to the school expressing your interest.  Here is an opt-out-field-test-letter-to-admin-template, modified from a template created by a New York state parent.

Remember,  test makers rely on field test data to make sure that the tests are valid and reliable.  For example, last year (spring 2013), the 5th grade and 8th grade Social Studies and the 7th grade geography test were “field tested.”   For some psychometric reason, the 7th grade geography test did not get enough usable data to make validate the results of the tests.  Therefore, this year (2014), the 7th grade geography is scheduled to be field tested again.

Keep in mind, while you have the right to opt your child out of field tests, if enough parents do so, it may impact the quality of the results.  I can imagine that this would cause either another year of field testing or a test that is not quite 100% reliable or valid.

Keep in mind, I am not advocating one way or the other.

I am simply trying to wrap my brain around the impact it could have.

Do what is best for you and your family.

Remember, opting out should not be taken lightly.   There must be open communication between the parent, the student, and the school and even the school board.  Know the facts.  Know the consequences.  Then make an informed decision for your child and your family.  

Finally, take it one step further.  

Contact your OK State Representative and your OK State Senator.  

Tell them: “I made an informed decision to opt your child out of the field test for ________ because _________ .   Please consider helping to write legislation next session that will reign in and limit high stakes testing in our schools.”

Your story has power.  Take the time to tell it.


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