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Last week, Delaware became the latest in growing number of states to push for the ability of parents to opt their children out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment tests. These tests were implemented as part of the increasingly unpopular Common Core education standards, but parents and teachers alike have been dissatisfied with the amount of time and focus going into test preparation as opposed to more traditional teaching, involving individualized interaction between teachers and students.
Delaware’s HB 50 - surprisingly sponsored by a Democrat - cleared the state Senate and now only awaits a signature from the governor. The bill would codify that parents may elect to opt their children out of the tests, and specifies that there will be no academic or disciplinary consequences for students who make this decision. This comes on the heels of a similar bill recently signed into law by Oregon’s Governor Kate Brown, indicating the growth of a larger opt-out movement among frustrated parents.
The trend of individuals deciding not to participate in the standards or their aligned assessments is in part a reaction to the inability of states to extricate themselves from Common Core as a whole. Seemingly promising repeal bills have repeatedly turned out to be disappointments, merely rebranding the standards instead of withdrawing from them. This has been the case in Indiana and Tennessee, where the governors claim to have repealed Common Core, when in fact such reforms are toothless.
Most recently, much was made of Scott Walker’s efforts to defund the Smarter Balanced tests in Wisconsin’s budget. As more details emerge, however, it appears that this has been yet another smokescreen, with the state’s new “Badger Tests” continuing alignment with Common Core. Since parents cannot rely on states to actually repeal Common Core, withdraw from the tests, or even be honest about the legislation they are passing, individual opt outs offer the best chance of meaningful educational freedom at present.
Of course, it remains important that individuals be vigilant in protecting their rights. Even in states where opting out is legal, school officials have been caught bullying students into participating, over fear that they might lose federal funding for failing to meet “participation quotas.” As long as the federal government remains involved in education, states are going to have a hard time avoiding the “strings attached” funding that restricts the ability to set policy at a local level.
The U.S. Constitution outlines no federal role for education, and the most recent attempt to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act - while it makes some important reforms - maintains the federal testing standards that are tying states’ hands. That leaves opting out of tests as the best option for parents who want to take back control of their children’s education from a central bureaucracy. If enough people refuse the tests, ultimately the state will have to blink. The power of grassroots action trumps the power of legislation every time.