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Who Is Opting Out of Standardized Tests?

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Deciphering which New York parents are more likely to opt their students out of standardized testing is still a little uncertain, according to a research paper released by the Brown Center on Education at Brookings this week.

Still, there's little doubt that the opt-out movement has grabbed numerous headlines and gained converts this past year. But limited and incomplete data about the individual students who refuse standardized testing, makes it challenging to make any definitive conclusions, writes Matthew M. Chingos, the paper's author. 

Chingos, who is the research director at the Brown Center on Education, used opt-out data gathered from a variety of sources by the New York-based test-refusal advocacy group, United to Counter the Common Core, in addition to U.S. Department of Education enrollment and demographic data. (The New York State Department of Education has yet to release demographic information that would provide a clearer picture of the students who are refusing the test.)

In his analysis of data for New York school districts from the 2014-15 school year, Chingos, was able to make some preliminary findings, among them:

  • School district opt-out rates vary significantly. He found that 19 percent of districts had an opt-out rate below 10 percent; 30 percent of districts were in the 10-25 percent range; 38 percent were in the 25-50 percent category; and 13 percent of districts had a majority of their students opting out.
  • Affluent school districts, which serve fewer disadvantaged students, had higher opt-out rates and slightly higher test scores.
  • School districts with the lowest opt-out rates were larger on average than those with higher test-refusal rates.
  • School districts enrolling more disadvantaged students had lower opt-out rates, even after test scores were taken into account. 

Meanwhile, Chingos also found that lower-performing school districts had higher opt-out rates after taking socioeconomic status into account. He speculates that district administrators could be encouraging opt-outs to cover up poor test scores or districts could be decreasing their focus on standardized test preparation. Regardless, it seems that better data will be essential in evaluating the characteristics and motivation of families choosing to opt out.

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