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With More Kids Skipping Tests, Minnesota Officials Fret Over School Accountability Implications

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Minnesota is embroiled in a debate about the impact that the opt-out phenomenon—in which with parent approval students don't sit for required standardized exams—will have on school support.

The number of Minnesota students opting out of the state's standardized tests is on the rise. And under the federal Every Student Succeeds law, these students will be recorded as "not proficient," a move that could make high-performing schools with a large number of opt-outs appear as low-performing.

Low-performing schools get extra support from the state. If schools get support they don't need on the basis of students simply skipping the tests, it could take away resources from schools that are actually low performing. 

At least that's the message of a new letter to parents considering the opt-out choice for their kids. In addition to the funding issue, the letter warns parents of a number of other negative consequences if they go the no-test route. Here is what parents must agree to:

"I understand that by signing this form, my student will be counted as "not proficient" for the purpose of school and district accountability and waive the opportunity to receive a college-ready score that could save him/her time and money by not having to take remedial, non-credit courses at a Minnesota state college or university. My school and I may lose valuable information about how well my student is progressing academically. In addition, opting out may impact the school, district and state's efforts to equitably distribute resources and support student learning."

Many bristle at the prospect of mostly white affluent parents opting their kids out of standardized tests at the expense of struggling students. "You have privileged families making a decision that will hurt historically marginalized communities," Daniel Sellers told twincities.com. He's the executive editor of Ed Allies, a nonprofit advocacy group. "It can have negative consequences on other families."

Also sounding the alarm is Denise Specht, president of the teachers union Education Minnesota, writing in a statement that the policy could "perversely send state assistance to schools that don't need it."

Josh Collins, a spokesman for the state department of education, noted that ESSA requires that 95 percent of eligible students take the state's tests and those who opt out must be marked "not proficient."

But as we've reported here at Education Week, not all states are taking steps beyond those requirements. Some states are requiring schools with low opt-out rates to develop plans to address them or will further lower their accountability ratings.

Minnesota appears to be among those states that are taking a gentler hand. The state plans to calculate and publicly report two different sets of test results: one representing only scores for those who sat down for the tests, the other including the opt-outs as "not proficient." It will use the second score for the low-performing schools that need extra support. But a number of factorspoverty, attendance, and graduation rates among themare considered in identifying struggling schools, so despite the advocates' concerns, schools with opt-outs may not qualify for it.

Even so, Collins warned that the low achievement scores could hurt a school's reputation.

Twincities.com uses Minneapolis South High as an example of how a school's scores could be negatively affected by opt-outs. Last year, the math proficiency rate for juniors was 29 percent, with 28 students taking the test and 393 opting out. If the opt-outs are counted as "not proficient," the proficiency rate sinks to 2 percent. That's even though the school surpassed the district average on the latest ACT college exam, according to the newspaper.


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