Most Washington students — including those in Pierce County — participated in required state testing last spring, according to preliminary data released by state education officials Thursday.
A fledgling opt-out movement surfaced mainly among 11th-graders, where the tests were not counted as a graduation requirement. However, the English portion of the test does count as a graduation requirement for 10th-graders.
Statewide, more than 95 percent of students in third through eighth grades took the new Smarter Balanced tests in English language arts and math, thus complying with federal rules that require at least 95 percent of students to take the test.
But only 47 percent of 11th-graders took the English test, and 46.7 percent took the math test.
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In Pierce County, 11th-grade test refusal rates were high in some districts. In the Gig Harbor-based Peninsula School District, more than 56 percent of 11th-graders opted out. And in University Place, nearly 55 percent did so.
In contrast, only about 4 percent of Bethel School District 11th-graders refused to take the tests. In Tacoma, less than than 10 percent of 11th-graders opted out. And there were no opt-outs reported among 11th-graders in the Fife School District.
State officials said 11th-graders may have decided to skip the new test because they had already met state graduation requirements. Those who score at a level 3 or 4 may be able to skip college placement tests and avoid remedial work. But Gil Mendoza, deputy state superintendent, said it’s possible that “many didn’t see that as an incentive.”
Washington state allows parents to opt their students out of the tests. Teacher and parental opposition to standardized testing, particularly the new Smarter Balanced tests which are based on more stringent Common Core standards, has blown into a major controversy in some states.
Kim Golding, a former Tacoma School Board member who’s been active in the opt-out movement, said that the relatively low numbers of opt-outs weren’t surprising, given that the movement is fairly new in Washington.
“The people who are really most aware of the opt-out movement are parents of kids who are doing well in school, anyway,” Golding said. “I think there is a growing opt-out movement. It does have momentum.”
State officials counter that it’s important for participation rates to remain high because if large numbers of students don’t test, it’s difficult to draw conclusions about which schools are struggling and which are succeeding.
And test scores are used for federal accountability under the No Child Left Behind Act, which is currently being debated by Congress. Kids who don’t test are given a score of zero, which will be factored into schoolwide and districtwide scores.
Districts and schools that don’t meet the 95 percent participation rate could be required to comply with another level of school improvement under NCLB, Mendoza said. Which schools and districts will be impacted won’t be known until final test results are released in August.
Whether the federal government would withhold funding from schools or districts that don’t meet the 95 percent participation rate remains to be seen.
State Superintendent Randy Dorn’s office emphasized that the preliminary test refusal data released Thursday was based on information reported by local school districts, and that data collection methods may have varied. Final numbers for students who didn’t take the tests will be reported along with final score results Aug. 17.
11th grade opt-outs
Opt-out rates on new state tests given this past spring hovered between 1 and 2 percent for students in grades three through eight.
But statewide, 11th graders showed the biggest rates of test refusals. Those rates varied among districts.
This chart shows the percentage of 11th grade students who opted out in selected Pierce County school districts. To see results from all grades and districts, go to the state OSPI Website at www.k12.wa.us
SOURCE: State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction