Understanding Opt Out: New Laws Expand Rights for Parents, Rein in Punitive Measures

For years, PAT members have been sounding the alarm about the negative impact of high-stakes standardized tests. 

Two years ago, our union took a formal position against the state's new Smarter Balanced Assessment, noting, among other problems, that it:

  • Saps away valuable instructional time;
  • Has not been proven reliable, or free from cultural, linguistic, or socio-economic bias
  • Cannot serve as a diagnostic tool to guide instruction since results are not available until after the school year is over;

If anything, last year's experience with the Smarter Balanced Assessment has only reinforced educator concerns about the test and more and more parents agree. Statewide, more than 10 percent of high school juniors opted out of SBAC last year, and the number is sure to increase this year thanks to changes in both state and federal law.

This summer, thanks to the leadership of state representative Lew Frederick and several other long-time education advocates, the legislature adopted HB2655, which allows parents to opt their children out of state testing, particularly the Smarter Balanced Assessment, without having to give a reason. Previously, opting-out was only allowed for religious beliefs or disability.

The new federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Actremoves any sanctions if less than 95 percent of students take a standardized test. Now it's up to the state to determine how participation factors in the state accountability system. 

These are welcome developments, but we need to continue our efforts to educate parents and the broader community about the negative effects of high-stakes tests

The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) appears deeply committed to SBAC, going so far as producing an opt-out form designed to subvert the intent of HB2655 and discourage parents from opting out by requiring them to acknowledge that, in effect, they might be damaging the child's school by opting them out of state testing.

Thankfully, the Portland School Board approved a proposal by Board member Steve Buel to provide more accurate information to PPS parents about their rights under HB2655, attaching a "disclaimer" to the ODE opt-out form when they send materials out to parents. Some PPS administrators seem just as committed as the ODE to locking our students into endless testing. At an information session I attended this week, I was shocked by the amount of misinformation that was peddled as fact, and the clear lack of balance in discussing the impact of high-stakes tests on our students and our profession.

Because state law now requires the District to inform parents about their right to exclude state standardized tests from their child's education, you have the right to share information about the process with them. Certainly, if you're a public school parent, you also have the right to let others know what decisions you're making for your own children and why. On non-work time, you can also express your opinions publicly and exercise your free speech rights.

As educators, we see the impact of high-stakes tests like SBAC first hand. If you need more evidence on how high-stakes tests are affecting classroom instruction and our ability to teach, visit Opt-Out Oregon for more details. Now is the time to share this information with parents, students, and community members. The tide is turning, but only if we continue to educate the public and keep up the pressure.