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After Oregon Gov. Brown Signs Opt-Out Bill, Is the State's Title I Aid in Jeopardy?

Cross-posted from the State EdWatch blog

By Andrew Ujifusa

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has signed a bill requiring districts to notify parents of their right to opt their children out of standardized exams. But you might have troubling discerning that from her press office.

On June 23, Brown, a Democrat, signed House Bill 2655, which makes districts send notices to parents twice a year about their right to opt out of state exams, along with the purpose and nature of those tests. The bill also creates two school rating systems. As my colleague Alyson Klein pointed out earlier this month, one state rating system would penalize a school for having a high opt-out rate, but the other would not. Specifically, the bill says that if a school's rating is affected by opt-outs, the state education department must provide report what the rating would have been without those opt-outs.

The bill also requires schools to set aside "study time" for students who opt out of the exams. In addition, although the state must provide an opt-out form to parents, the bill does not require parents to explain why they are opting their children out of the tests. And students can't be denied a high school diploma if they opt out. 

Under previous law, parents could only opt their children out of standardized exams for reasons related to disability or religion. The state gave the Smarter Balanced exam in English/language arts and math for the first time this spring, but the Oregon Education Association had previously urged the state to call off the test over concerns about its difficulty and validity. 

So how did Brown characterize the bill in her June 23 press release? She certainly didn't sound the trumpets for the opt-out movement. After stressing the need for "accurate data" on students, here's a key portion of her statement: 

"But [test] participation is crucial to success. Under HB 2655, the State is responsible to ensure parents are aware of the purpose and value of assessments and receive notice from their local school districts about their rights and obligations. Educators must engage with parents about the value of assessment and the potential consequences if parents opt out and student participation diminishes. We cannot afford to risk losing federal dollars, especially for students who have been traditionally underserved."

 As Alyson pointed out in her June 9 blog post, however, the U.S. Department of Education notified the state before Brown signed the bill that the legislation "increases the likelihood that Oregon will not meet its obligations under the law and [could] incur enforcement action." Such action could include the feds' decision to withhold $140 million in Title I cash, which is intended for low-income students. And the Education Department also views the new law as a proactive encouragement of opt-out. 

Meanwhile, the Delaware legislature is close to passing a bill that would also provide parents the right in statute to opt their students out of state exams. The News Journal reported Tuesday that although Gov. Jack Markell, a Democrat, has indicated that he would veto the legislation, current vote counts indicate that there could be enough legislators backing the bill to override such a veto. However, that bill hasn't cleared all the hurdles required before it can be sent to the governor. 

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