Nevada Opt-Outs Increase, Downplayed By the Media

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The headline of an article in the Las Vegas Sun today is more straightforward than the article itself. The headline reads “Opting out of Common Core slightly up statewide, despite drop in Clark County.”

The writer, Ian Whitaker, downplays the headline.

Even in the wake of an embarrassing technical snafu with the state’s main Common Core assessment last year, few Nevadans seem to be opting out of the test.

In Clark County, the largest district in the state and fifth largest in the country, only 56 students opted out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment this year, according to district records. That’s down from around 75 in spring 2015, the first time the controversial SBAC was administered.

He then finally writes, midway through the article, opt-outs are up statewide. So while Las Vegas & other Clark County students may not be opting-out a state-wide increase means they’re opting out in greater numbers outside the county.

While Clark County saw a decrease, opt-outs statewide are slightly up from last year.

In Washoe County, the second largest school district in the state, schools saw a nearly 58 percent increase in SBAC opt-outs and test refusals over last year. Most of those were in grades four and seven.

A 58% increase in the state’s second largest school district? Why wasn’t that the lede?

John Eppolito, an activist fighting Common Core in Nevada, complained about the media coverage which he believes has led to fewer students opting out.

John Eppolito, a Lake Tahoe real estate agent and unofficial leader of the opt-out movement in Nevada, largely blames the media for the low opt-out rates, claiming a refusal to cover the issue has left many families in the dark.

“It’s very hard to educate parents. Most don’t have any idea what’s going on,” said Eppolito, who led the charge to ban Common Core during last year’s legislative session. “If parents knew, a lot more would opt out.”

One parent pointed to why the opt-out rate is higher. Fear of reprisals and harassment from schools.

Tabitha Hugdahl, whose 9-year-old son Carter refused to take the SBAC at Mack Elementary this year, believes she was denied renewal of a zone variance to the school because of it. Zone variances allow families to send their students to schools they aren’t zoned for based on where they live.

“Although it is a parent’s right to opt out of testing, our school’s participation rate suffered, which in turn worked against our school meeting its goal of 100 percent participation,” the school told Hugdahl in a letter.

Hugdahl appealed the decision, which the district denied, claiming the school was already overcrowded and that Hugdahl had missed a filing deadline.

“Do you give up what you believe in, or do you let them make him take the test?” Hughdahl said.

In Summerlin, parent Kim Punzal said she was bombarded with emails and voicemails from school staff this year asking her to reconsider letting her son take the SBAC at Ober Elementary.

“I was told: ‘We need this data on (your son),’” she said. “I said, ‘He’s been in your class since last August; what else do you need?’ I honestly didn’t want to talk about it. I knew I had a right not to.”

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