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New Report Details State Testing Opt-Out Laws, Policies

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A new report released Thursday hopes to add some clarity to a question that has confounded test-weary parents across the nation: Do parents have the legal right to opt their children out of state assessments?

According to the report issued by the Denver-based Education Commission of the States, California and Utah are the only two states in the nation where state law allows parents to opt their children out of state assessments. Lawmakers in New Jersey and North Dakota are considering legislation that would permit opting out as well. However, a similar bill in Mississippi failed to make it to a vote.

Meanwhile, the report found that state law in Arkansas and Texas prohibits opting out, while other state departments of education in states like, South Carolina and New Jersey, for example, offer specific opt-out guidance to school districts.

That leaves the opting-out picture fairly murky for the rest of the country, especially since the report found that few states clearly define any consequences for those parents choosing the opt-out route for their children. In fact, the report found that some states—Alaska and Montana, for example—chose not to issue any guidance or statements regarding opting out.

"This has been a heated debate in many states with very little consensus on the best approaches," Micah Ann Wixom, a policy analyst at the Education Commission of the States and co-author of the report, said in a news release.

With no cohesive message addressing the potential impact of opting out, parents are finding ways to use medical, physical disability, and religious exemptions to refuse state assessments on behalf of their children. The report also found that anti-testing advocates in Oregon and Pennsylvania are advising parents to take advantage of the religious exception in those states.

The lack of opt-out guidance has left parents scrambling to find information about their rights. United Opt Out National, an anti-testing advocacy group, has assembled state-by-state opt-out guides on its website with links to legislation and policy memos where they are available. The group held a conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in January to discuss strategies to bolster the test-refusal movement nationwide.

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