About half of the juniors at Curtis High School in University Place are refusing to take new state tests, according to the school district. But most cite test overload — upcoming Advanced Placement and SAT tests — rather than opposition to the new tests themselves that has driven protests elsewhere, according to officials.
University Place Superintendent Patti Banks said that, as of Monday, 52 percent of the district’s juniors had filed refusal-to-test forms, which require parental permission. One report circulating on Facebook stated that 85 percent of Curtis juniors were opting out of the tests. Banks said that number was inflated.
State testing began at the high school Monday. The new state tests are known as the SBAC, because they were developed by the multi-state Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.
Protests over the SBAC, as well as similar tests based on the Common Core standards adopted by Washington and other states, have prompted anti-testing boycotts in other states. And last week, every junior at Seattle’s Nathan Hale High School skipped SBAC testing, along with significant numbers at several other Seattle high schools.
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South Sound schools were reporting far-lower opt-out numbers. Tacoma reported Tuesday that about 212 students across all grades refused to take the test, about 1.4 percent of the estimated 15,000 scheduled for testing. In Puyallup, the figure was less than 1 percent, or about 44 refusals. In the Bethel School District, officials characterized the number of test refusals as “a handful” across all grades.
In University Place, Banks said few of the Curtis students are citing philosophical objections to the SBAC or to the Common Core standards. Rather, she said, most state on their refusal form that they want to skip it for practical reasons: They are either studying this week for upcoming Advanced Placement tests, or taking the SAT test on Saturday.
Banks said the next most common reason Curtis juniors cited for wanting out of the SBAC was participation in Running Start. Those are students who are simultaneously enrolled at Curtis and at a local community college. Running Start students said they didn’t want to miss college classes at this point in the quarter.
“We have not had a significant number of parents or students raise concerns about testing in general, or even about the SBAC in particular,” Banks said. She said that 100 percent of Curtis sophomores participated in SBAC testing.
That may be because of an anomaly in this year’s testing cycle. The SBAC is designed to measure college-and-career readiness in math and language arts, as students finish their junior year and head into their final year of high school. But the tests don’t count as graduation requirements for juniors.
“The vast majority of these (junior) students have already met all of their graduation requirements,” Banks said.
“When high school assessments are not linked to graduation or to other meaningful accountability measures, there is simply no way to ensure high levels of participation,” she said.
Sophomores are taking the SBAC only in English language arts this year. It counts as a graduation requirement for them. Sophomores must also pass an end-of-course math exam to graduate.
Banks theorized that students are choosing to focus on tests that will have an impact on their educational future. This weekend’s SAT testing and the Advanced Placement (AP) tests, set for May 4-15, carry significant weight for college-bound students. SAT scores can determine college admission, and AP scores that are high enough can earn them college credits.
Last week, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn issued a news release about the consequences of test refusals.
“If some families refuse to have students tested, the results become less reliable,” Dorn said in the release. “It is difficult to know who is actually struggling and needs that additional help because accurate comparisons can’t be made.”
He also pointed to potential financial consequences for school districts. Dorn said that if the state does not reach a 95-percent student participation rate on the tests, the U.S. Department of Education could place Washington on “high-risk” status and withhold certain types of funding