The U.S. Department of Education has spoken on student opt-outs for the 2016 statewide assessments.
Ann Whalen, the acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, wrote a letter to state school chiefs reminding them of “key assessment requirements” for the statewide assessments to be taken in Spring 2016. This school year the states are still under the requirements of No Child Left Behind. Whalen notes however, “similar requirements are included in the recently signed reauthorization of the ESEA, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).”
She gets very clear on a student’s ability to opt-out.
Section 1111(b)(3)1 of the ESEA requires each State educational agency (SEA) that receives funds under Title I, Part A of the ESEA to implement in each local educational agency (LEA) in the State a set of high-quality academic assessments that includes, at a minimum, assessments in mathematics and reading/language arts administered in each of grades 3 through 8 and not less than once during grades 10 through 12; and in science not less than once during grades 3 through 5, grades 6 through 9, and grades 10 through 12. Furthermore, ESEA sections 1111(b)(3)(C)(i) and (ix)(I) require State assessments to “be the same academic assessments used to measure the achievement of all children” and “provide for the participation in such assessments of all students” (emphasis added). These requirements do not allow students to be excluded from statewide assessments. Rather, they set out the legal rule that all students in the tested grades must be assessed. (Emphasis added)
So perhaps Congress should have kept opt-out language in ESSA after all. A lot will be left up to interpretation by the U.S. Department of Education.
John King, who will replace Arne Duncan as U.S. Secretary of Education, told Politico that he will set up “guardrails” for the new flexibility states receive under ESSA.
Politico noted in today’s Morning Education that state school chiefs are starting to note a lack of clarity as they – start to read the bill (it’s too bad Congress didn’t do that).
State education chiefs have been combing through the Every Student Succeeds Act and there’s a lot they’d like more clarity on — particularly about the new, pared-back role of the federal government. Some chiefs are excited about the new wiggle room and fewer federal constraints. But others worry that it might allow states to backslide when it comes to holding schools and districts accountable for student performance. Washington Superintendent Randy Dorn said Congress’ move to diminish the education secretary’s power was purely political. And Massachusetts Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester said it’s “clearly a reaction” to the last seven years, which include waivers from No Child Left Behind and competitive grant programs like Race to the Top that pushed states to adopt a confluence of reforms, like higher academic standards and more rigorous tests. “The federal role going forward needs to be sorted out,” Chester said. “I think it’s yet to be determined how much leeway states will have … For example, the bill calls for ‘ambitious’ academic standards, so how exactly will the federal government determine whether states are meeting that requirement?”….
— Both outgoing Education Secretary Arne Duncan and his successor, John King, have made clear that the department will use its full regulatory powers to ensure states won’t backtrack on the progress they’ve made.
Apparently the feds will be to define what “backtracking” and “progress” looks like. Even though advocates of ESSA says that states can pass their own opt-out laws to be included in their own state plan it looks that quashing student opt-outs will be one of the guardrails that a newly minted U.S. Secretary of Education John King will throw up for the 2016-2017 school year.