4J Opt-Out Rate Heartens Some, Worries Others

Although statewide results won’t become public until Sept. 17 for the Smarter Balanced Assessment — a standardized test Oregon students took this spring to determine if schools are teaching in alignment with the Common Core State Standards — preliminary results show that around 11 percent of Eugene School District 4J students did not take the test.

For local anti-testing group Community Alliance for Public Education (CAPE), this statistic is good news. For school officials on the local and state level, the number strikes a more ominous tone.

“We’re heartened,” says Roscoe Caron, a member of CAPE. He says the alliance had predicted a 5-percent opt-out rate, but 11 percent far exceeded expectations. “It would be nice to get to 25 percent this year,” he says.

Group members say they oppose high-stakes, mandatory, standardized testing because it fails to accurately measure progress, takes up too much class time and plays a role in a punitive education system that punishes underperforming schools.

According to an Aug. 17 email from Salam Noor, Oregon’s deputy superintendent of public instruction, 23 Oregon school districts had overall participation rates lower than 95 percent — anything lower than 95 percent fails to meet federal participation targets, the letter says.

Kerry Delf, 4J’s associate director for communications, says that 4J is keeping on eye on participation rates, noting that “we are certainly not the only district that fell beneath participation targets — we’re in company with many other good school districts around the state.” Delf says that Noor has reached out to 4J and is in conversation with district leadership about assessment participation.

Delf adds that 4J strives to meet participation rates and has typically met them in the past, though not always in every subgroup, and she says it’s more difficult to measure achievement gaps without consistent data.

Noor says in the email to superintendents and principals that he is “deeply concerned” by the below-target numbers. “Oregon schools risk losing $344 million in federal funds if our participation drops too low,” he writes. “With the passage of HB 2655, that goes into effect on Jan. 1 and gives parents and adult students the right to annually opt out of statewide summative assessments, it will be more important than ever that districts communicate with their parents and communities about the purpose and value of these tests so that we can address parents’ concerns and help them understand the impact of opting out.”

In New York, where opt-out rates among third through eighth graders hit 20 percent, school districts will not lose federal money this year, according to an Aug. 20 New York Times article. CAPE members point to this as evidence that Oregon will not be penalized for its opt-out rates.

“How can anyone take the testing regime seriously when the method of implementation is fear?” Rachel Rich, a member of CAPE, asks.