Ohio Lawmaker Proposes Protections for Testing Opt-Outs

Published February 10, 2016

Responding to the increasing popularity of opting out of Common Core-aligned standardized tests, Ohio lawmakers are proposing reforms to the way government schools are “graded” on educational performance.

The state’s Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing system, created as part of Ohio’s adoption of Common Core educational standards, was dropped in June 2015, after months of technological glitches and concerns about classroom time priorities. State law permits the government to withhold funding from schools with low rates of testing.

Safe Harbor from Sanctions

Lawmakers passed a law in June 2014 granting “safe harbor” to government schools with low testing rates, removing test scores as a criterion in school districts’ annual evaluations, but federal laws do not fully allow these protections. Government schools with low testing participation rates could face federal sanctions.

State Rep. Kristina Roegner (R-Hudson) says a newly proposed bill, House Bill 420, would help reduce the risk of federal sanctions incurred by testing opt-outs.

“After working with my colleagues and other interested parties, we have developed a substitute bill that would make some changes to the original bill,” Roegner said. “Under the revised bill, the [U.S.] Department of Education would include two separate grades on the report card for the performance index. One grade would count the students who opted out as ‘zeros,’ as current law prescribes. The other would not count the students who opted out of these assessments; those students who opt out will not affect the grade at all.”

More Accurate Statistics

Roegner says her bill will give parents additional accurate information about the quality of their children’s education.

“The purpose of this is transparency,” Roegner said. “School district administrators would be able … to go to parents and quantitatively define how students opting out of assessments impact their school district. I should also note that under the revised bill, this would only be for one year.”

Roegner says HB 420 will also crack down on government school officials who try to game the system.

“We have added a penalty for school district employees who suggest that a student should opt out of a state assessment,” Roegner said. “We want to put to rest any concerns that districts might suggest that poorer-performing students opt out in order to boost the school’s grades.”

Penalties Removed?

Kelly Kohls, president of the Ohio School Boards Leadership Council, a grassroots organization of government school board members focusing on implementing educational reforms in their communities, says the bill is not as extensive as the version proposed in 2015. That bill, she says, offered protections from federal sanctions for underperforming schools.

“This bill protects districts from state financial sanctions if their report card grades fall for any reason, including students opting out of the tests,” Kohls said. “Holding districts harmless would be consistent with what was done in the previous safe-harbor bill passed [in 2015]. However, this year’s bill, HB 420, does not offer the same provisions for holding districts financially harmless [with the federal government] for opt-outs.”

Spinning the Results

“If less than 95 percent of subgroups are tested, the grade is lowered one level, meaning that the districts will look bad in the eyes of their community and [the public] will be less likely to pass levies,” Kohls said. “However, they often use this data to say they need more money to improve. Districts will always find a way to spin the propaganda their way. Therefore, I believe opting out of the tests will have no real impact to the district.”

Kohls says the bill may trigger federal sanctions contained in the Every Student Succeeds Act.

“HB 420 would permit every district to be in a safe harbor, … [there will be] no sanctions, no matter what their grades look like,” Kohls said. “This bill does not offer a financial safe harbor for districts that do not meet the federal requirements of 95 percent test-takers.”

Matt Hurley ([email protected]) writes from Cincinnati, Ohio.