The Wisconsin legislature is considering a bill that would give students the choice to opt out of standardized test given by local school districts. This comes after more than 8,000 Wisconsin students opted out of a statewide standardized given to measure academic achievement, known as the Badger Exam.
The Superior Telegram's Gilman Halsted says the debate is centered on the state's adoption of the national Common Core standards.
Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac), the author of the bill, said it would force districts to better explain how test results are used.
"There are a lot of people questioning standardized testing," said Thiesfeldt. "If you can't explain it then you should really re-evaluate why it is that you're having this test being taken."
Those opposed to the bill say that local standardized tests are necessary to allow teachers to determine if the curriculum is working so they can improve student learning, and test results will be unreliable if too many students refuse to take the test, they say. Jeffrey Pertl, a senior adviser at the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI), says the decision to opt-out of local achievement tests should be made by the local districts.
Pertl adds that there is a significant achievement gap between the scores of white and black students which has been revealed by standardized tests. He is afraid that allowing more opt-outs could skew the results and make it impossible to evaluate schools accurately.
The increase in opt-outs is significant, up from 1% last year to 2% of all public school students this spring, reports Molly Beck of the Wisconsin State Journal. But state officials are quick to note that the percentage of students opting out this year is not as high as in states like New York, where the opt-out rate was 14% for one of its standardized tests.
The DPI says there is a countrywide movement of parents protesting testing. These parents are asking why there are so many tests, how scores are used to determine school accountability, and whether the tests are a sound way to evaluate teachers.
Gov. Scott Walker, in his 2015-2017 budget, has included removing the test altogether. He has also signed a bill to do away with this year's scores for measuring schools' progress and evaluating teachers' performance — yet another reason parents may choose to have their children sit out this year's test.
The opt-out bill will increase the number of tests students could choose not to take. Thiesfeldt does not believe, however, that the state's test participation rate will drop below the 95% level required by the federal government. If participation drops below that percentage, federal sanctions could occur.
It seems that most of the parents who are having their children opt-out of the tests are not living in low-income households and do not have children in special education classes. Opposition to the tests is growing among parents who do not like the number of tests that are given and who are opposed to how scores are being used by lawmakers.
One parent, Brad Werntz, says he wants his kids' days spent learning and not "memorizing what might be on the tests." He adds that he would like the tests to be part of his children's' school year, but not a part of their daily existence, writes Molly Beck of the LaCrosse Tribune.