Oregon Bill Would Expand Parents' Rights to Excuse Kids from Standarized Tests

Rep. Lew Frederick (D-Portland) responds to growing 'opt out' movement

Rep. Lew Frederick (D-Portland) wants parents to be able to opt their children out of standardized tests for any reason, broadening a state law that currently allows opting out for reasons of religion or disability only.

House Bill 2714 in the 2015 Legislature also would change the ways schools notify parents of their rights to opt out, requiring for the first time that districts notify parents of their ability to opt their kids out of statewide tests.

"I think it is appropriate for parents to be able to say, 'This doesn't make sense,'" Frederick tells WW.

Right now in Portland Public Schools, for example, principals distribute opt-out forms only to families that request them. And principals only approve exemptions after telling parents about the potential consequences for the school.

In practice, PPS does not challenge parents who opt out their kids by claiming a religious objection. Their numbers have grown in recent years.

But parents who do this face other challenges. Schools that get federal anti-poverty funding known as Title 1 could face drastic state and federal interventions, including reconstitution, if they drop to the bottom of state rankings because a lot of students opt out. Reconstitution involves replacing at least half a school's staff.

The state ranks schools based not only on how many students reach benchmarks but also how many students within several subcategories complete the test. The participation requirement is designed to make sure schools don't juice their stats by, for example, preventing English Language Learners from taking tests.

Frederick's bill has a third component. It would require that children who opt out of standardized tests use other methods for showing proficiency.

Frederick says the bill doesn't take aim at all tests. "Clearly, you have to have assessments," he says. But standardized tests too often fail to give teachers appropriate and timely feedback on children's progress.

He also wants schools to stop intimidating parents who choose to opt out.

"Parents are given threats," he says. "This needs to stop as well."