Think Out Loud

New Oregon Law Could Lead To More Testing Opt-Outs

By Julie Sabatier (OPB) and Casey Decker (OPB)
June 28, 2015 7 a.m.

Josh Davis / Flickr

It's unclear what kinds of consequences the state could face now that Governor Kate Brown has signed a bill making it easier for parents to opt their kids out of standardized tests.

The bill removes the need for a religious justification to opt out of standardized tests mandated by the Common Core curriculum and requires Oregon schools to notify parents of their opt-out rights.

Monty Neill is the executive director of FairTest, an organization critical of standardized testing. In an interview on "Think Out Loud," Neill praised the law for giving parents more options.

"In general it's an excellent law," he says. "It informs parents of their rights. It's very good that parents have a clear right to make that choice as they wish."

Neill said that widespread use of standardized testing has sparked an increase in parents trying to opt their kids out, with or without laws explicitly allowing them to do so.

"Testing has gone around the bend," he said. "It's completely overboard in our schools. To use this test to make decisions about students, teachers, and schools is unwarranted by the research data and has clearly harmful consequences. Parents are fed up with it."


Toya Fick, executive director of Stand for Children Oregon, appeared with Neill on "Think Out Loud." Fick argued that standardized tests provide crucial data needed to make informed decisions on education policies.

The law, she said "takes away the data that we need to understand what's happening along the way, so that we can course-correct, so that we can devote resources to schools that have low reading scores, for example."

Fick says incomplete data will especially hurt the state's ability to aid low-income students and students of color.

"If a large number of kids opt-out of our tests, it will mask achievement gaps, and that will hurt kids on the lower end of that gap, because we can't target resources," she said. "We can't understand what's going on in those schools. It doesn't give us a full picture of what's happening."

Neill said people don't want to opt-out for the sake of opting out. Rather, they're frustrated with the way tests are administered. He said tests are too frequent, the stakes are too high, and the tests themselves miss out on assessing key skills.

"We think that if you test occasionally, and if you push schools to use the kind of assessment that are largely locally-based – portfolios, projects, extended learning – that are not covered by standardized tests, and that you encourage teachers to learn and work together, you can begin to do the kinds of things that will build a much stronger school system," he said.

The Oregon law has also raised another major concern: former Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education Deborah Delisle said last month that increased opt-outs could lead to a loss of federal education funding for Oregon.

Common Core standards require at least 95 percent of students participate in testing in order for a state to receive some federal funds. Oregon's current rate is around 95. Fick says she's concerned.

"I think that signing this legislation into law was a $140 million a year gamble that the state put on the table for our kids," she said. "Signing this bill is playing chicken."

Neill, however, says the threat is empty.

"It's the 50th anniversary of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act," he said, referring to the Johnson-era law that provided key federal funding for low-income public schools. "And not once has a state ever lost program money due to violation. And there have been very serious violations that have been challenged by the feds."