Department of Education Warns Students Who Opt out of Testing May Not Graduate

By McCrea, Nick | Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME), May 22, 2015 | Go to article overview

Department of Education Warns Students Who Opt out of Testing May Not Graduate


McCrea, Nick, Bangor Daily News (Bangor, ME)


BANGOR, Maine -- As debate over standardized testing ramped up in the Legislature, the Maine Department of Education again cautioned parents and school administrators this week about the possible fallout from opting out of statewide assessments. Among the potential repercussions -- a school could withhold a student's diploma.

"No one is going to force a child to sit and take the test," Acting Commissioner Tom Desjardin said in a written statement released Wednesday. "[Parents and students] do not, however, have a right to be shielded from the consequences of that act, which could range from action by the school district or loss of federal funding for the school."

The department issued the statement in the wake of the legislative education committee's discussion of LD 695, An Act to Empower Parents in the Education of Their Children by Allowing an Opt-out from Standardized Assessments. The committee recommended that the bill ought not to pass when it hits the full Legislature in coming weeks, in spite of a series of failed amendments aimed at softening the language and provisions of the bill.

The bill seeks to codify in statute that the right to opt out exists -- federal courts have supported that right in several cases. The measure also would require the DOE and local school districts to notify parents of their opt-out rights, and it prohibits punitive action against districts or teachers that discuss or encourage opt outs. Those provisions, however, could conflict with existing state law, which gives local school districts the right to place graduation requirements on students, and enforce them as needed, according to attorneys from the attorney general's office and the Legislature's Office of Policy and Legal Analysis, who spoke during the work session on the bill.

For example, under state law, a school district could set community service, a senior-year exit exam or, in this case, completion of the statewide test as a condition of graduation. Failure to meet that condition would mean no diploma for that student. Those decisions are entirely local, and the bill as it was originally written would have forced the DOE to interfere, and usurp that local authority to set expectations for students, Desjardin argued.

Desjardin pointed to Noble High School in North Berwick, part of MSAD 60, which requires students to take the state test in their junior year if they want to graduate. The student handbook states: "The state and federal governments use these test results to determine our school and student success and progress. Completion of required state testing is a graduation requirement."

Joe Findlay, principal at Noble, said the school has required participation in state testing as a condition of graduation for the past seven years, along with 60 hours of community service and annual capstone presentations. The school has never failed to meet the 95 percent test participation rule, according to the principal.

"We have not had to withhold any diplomas because the students who did not test did not graduate or received a waiver from the state due to extenuating circumstances," Findlay said.

In SAD 60, if parents want to opt their children out of the Maine Educational Assessment, they must sign a form stating that they understand that all schools in Maine are required by federal law to have 95 percent of their students tested or the school could face financial penalties.

It's unclear how many other districts in the state have similar graduation requirements. Neither Desjardin nor the Maine School Management Association could name others off hand, and no reliable record exists on the varied graduation requirements in districts across the state.

However, student handbooks available on school websites indicate that Old Town High School and Lake Region High School in Naples also require students to take the state assessment in their junior year in order to graduate. …

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