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Parents can opt out of Maryland standardized assessments

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This week in Maryland schools begins the first days of MSA testing for this year, despite parental and teacher objection. There are movements across the nation pushing for “opting out” of the school standardized assessments, which in Maryland are the HSA, MSA, MAP, and PARCC. School systems can lose some funding if they have a testing participation rate under 95%.

MSA is an expensive and useless test
$9 million is being spent in Maryland in order to administer the MSA that state officials at the MSDE and the NEA admit won’t provide reliable data for evaluating schools and teachers due to the test material being phased out by Common Core material. Students are expected to perform poorly on the test, but it is being given to comply with federal law.

Past unscrupulous administration of testing
One reason for all the strict compliance rules about administering the tests is that, apparently, there have been issues in the past with some school employees or administrators trying to skew the data by allowing some kids who were expected to perform poorly to not take the test.

MSDE response to parents’ opt out inquiries
In response to the many parents’ inquiries on “opting out”, MSDE is saying that “parents cannot opt out”. The MSDE sent a letter to local school systems this school year, advising them not to grant requests to forego testing and NOT to give an alternate assignment during the testing administration. MSDE wants our kids not taking the test to sit in silence for two-and-a-half hours while the others take it. Now, that’s the MSDE really looking out for the best interests of our children and having respect for the wishes of parents.

Stacey Shack, Direct of Assessments in Baltimore County, said, “If the student is in school during the testing window [Mar. 4-20], they are supposed to attempt to test them.” They are being told by MSDE that the school can offer a book to the student to read. Ms. Shack explained that it is difficult for the school to arrange alternate instruction when everyone else is testing. She also reiterated the talking point that it is a parent’s choice whether or not to send their children to public school, and if they do, they can’t pick and choose in what parts of the school program their kids will participate. This idea that parents have no say beyond the choice of public vs. private vs. homeschooling is a bit alarming, but will wait for another article.

The law governs school action, not parents
The statement that parents can’t opt out is misleading and false. The verbiage is causing some of the problem. PARENTS CAN REFUSE THE TEST. Maryland law regarding assessments does not apply to parents. It simply requires that a school system administer the assessment; a student does not have to take it. You can’t force a pencil into a kid’s hand and make them participate. What is meant when they say “parents cannot opt out” is that there is no provision in Maryland law to allow the school system to get around its legal obligation to administer the tests inclusively by granting students to be excused or exempted based on parental objection. The school or an employee of the school cannot be a party to failing to administer the test except by the procedures laid out in policy. Let me be clear: the burden of the law is the requirement that school systems administer the test. It is not a burden on parents or students to take the test.

Ramifications of not participating
One caveat is that the HSA is a requirement for graduation, so in that context, high school students must take it if they wish to receive their diplomas. Also, the MSA can be used as part of the criteria to determine class placement for any student.

According to United Opt Out regarding special needs students, “Find out from your local district what the policies are of the effects of opting out of MSA’s for your child’s district. You can request alternative assessments and measures be used to determine if your child can apply for special programs [this mainly refers to special needs, magnet, and accelerated programs]. Use the term ‘multiple measures’ when making the request, since Maryland evaluation systems will not use 50% of the teacher evaluation from HST test scores and 50% from other teacher driven measures.”

Maryland Accommodations Manual
So the next question is: what is the policy regarding the school system not administering the MSA, such as in the case when a parent refuses to have his child take it? MSDE has a policy on accommodations for certain students with regard to the administration of assessments. On page 2-7 of the Maryland Accommodations Manual, the only exceptions to the school system’s requirement to administer the test is for special needs students, English language Learners, and Section 504 Plan students who meet certain criteria that doesn’t apply to the majority of students.

Truancy issue
Parents can keep their kids out of school on MSA testing days in order to prevent the administration of the tests to their kids, but there are two days for each test in Math, Reading, and Science, plus another week or more of make-up days. These missed days would constitute unexcused absences, and COMAR defines a truant student as one “who is unlawfully absent for more than:

  • 8 days in any quarter
  • 15 days in any semester or
  • 20 days in a school year”

However, a child missing less than two hours of the school day is tardy rather than absent. There are additional rules on tardiness, but the school would have to press the issue. If parents were to keep their kids home for under two hours during primary test days (send them in with a book to read for the remaining 30-60 minutes of testing), the students would not be horribly inconvenienced by the MSDE advice to punish them in silence for their parents' gall to disagree with the policies their children are subject to at the hands of the USDE and MSDE.

What can parents do
Since the school cannot fail to administer the test, parents have two choices: remove your child on testing days and possibly face truancy law violations, or refuse the test while keeping your kids in school and let them sit in silence for hours. But there is a third option.

At my son’s school, they are administering the tests from 7:45am for the first three periods. School starts at 7:20, so if he arrives at 9:15, he would only have to sit for 60 minutes reading a book and he will be counted as present but tardy for the day. When they attempt to administer the test, he will hand them a copy of the letter I already sent to the principal, refusing the test.

Remember, your school, teachers, and principals are victims in this almost as much as your kids. The USDE and MSDE have put them between a rock and a hard place. Every level from parents to teachers to county school boards must stiffen their spines to fight the overtake of our local schools by federal and state efforts to dictate school policy.

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