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Under Proposed Federal Rules, Schools Could Pay For Opt-Outs

Michael Clapp

Proposed rules from the U.S. Department of Education lay out specific sanctions against schools that don’t have enough students taking standardized tests.

The new Every Student Succeeds Act shifted some power to states, but it kept aspects that have been controversial in states like Oregon such as a rule that 95 percent of students take standardized tests in certain grades.

The new draft rules specify possible consequences for schools that fall short on participation. Schools could be given the lowest possible rating.

To raise the participation numbers, states could send those schools more resources, or states could come up with their own remedy with federal approval.

Last year, Oregon students opted out of new "Smarter Balanced" exams in droves, especially in parts of Portland, Eugene and Lake Oswego. Federal officials didn’t penalize Oregon. But they took a dim view of a proposed state law that could make opting out easier.

Labor groups are also taking a critical look at the rules. The American Federation of Teachers expressed concern about the testing sanctions.

“Rather than listen to the outcry by parents and educators over hypertesting, the department offers specific punitive consequences for when fewer than 95 percent of students participate in tests," said AFT President Randi Weingarten in a statement.

"This doesn’t solve the issue of the misuse of testing. It simply inflames the problem by suggesting punitive consequences for those who are so frustrated by the misuse and high-stakes nature of standardized testing that they want to opt their kids out."

Oregon officials were more cautious.

The Oregon Education Association is reviewing the rules and sent a statement to OPB on Friday.

“These are suggested draft regulations, still subject to public comment, and are far from final. In the meantime, we are working closely with the Oregon Department of Education to develop a balanced system of assessment that will enhance student learning, improve outcomes, and not send our students out into the hallways crying and feeling sick to their stomach,” said OEA President Hanna Vaandering.

"The proposed rule requires parents and educators to be involved in developing locally-designed improvement plans for identified schools, and these plans must consider resource inequities," said Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici.

Bonamici said she is still studying the rules and discussing them before coming to any conclusions.

Editor's Note: This story was updated with statements provided by the Oregon Education Association and Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, received on Friday. The original story posted on Thursday May 26.

Copyright 2016 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Rob Manning is a news editor at Oregon Public Broadcasting, with oversight of reporters covering education, healthcare and business. Rob became an editor in 2019, following about 15 years covering schools and universities in Oregon and southwest Washington as OPB’s education reporter.