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Can parents opt their kids out of state testing? Not without consequences.

I am getting a lot of emails on the timing of this year’s Georgia Milestones exams and I will be sharing some of the concerns of the parents and students who have reached out to me. (One issue: A Milestones end of course high school test overlaps with an AP exam.)

But first I wanted to share something sent to me by DeKalb school board member Stan Jester. This is from his DeKalb Schools Fact Checker blog, and it addresses whether Georgia parents can have their children sit out state exams.

Question: Can parents opt out of Milestones testing?

Knox Phillips: The State of Georgia’s legislation does not permit opt-outs from state mandated assessments (Georgia Law O.C.G.A. §20‐2‐281)

Question: Will the school, district or student be penalized for opting out?

Knox Phillips: Yes. The refusal to participate will impact overall school achievement and CCRPI scores. Specifically, State Board of Education Rule 160‐4‐2‐.11, contains the following language that applies when students do not test in a state‐designated promotion/retention grade:

(3)(c) 6. ‘A student’s failure to take the state‐adopted assessment in grades 3, 5, and 8 in reading and/or mathematics on any of the designated testing date(s) or an alternative assessment instrument that is appropriate for the student’s grade level as provided for by the State Board of Education and the local board of education shall result in the student being retained. The option of the parent or guardian or teacher(s) to appeal the decision to retain the student shall follow the procedure set forth in this rule.’

(3)(c) 8. ‘The decision of the placement committee may be appealed only as provided for by the local board of education.’

Designated high school courses require that the Georgia Milestones End of Course (EOC) measures serve as the final exam and that they comprise a defined portion of a student’s final course grade. Specifically, SBOE Rule 160‐4‐2‐.13 states that:

(2)(d). ‘The Georgia Milestones EOC shall be used as the final exam in the courses assessed by a Georgia Mile-stones EOC. Georgia Milestones EOC reports shall provide students, parents, and educators with individual scores on each EOC taken; student scores must be recorded on, in, or with the individual student report card.

(2)(e). ‘For students who entered ninth grade for the first time before July 1, 2011, the numeric score on the Georgia Milestones EOC shall count for 15% of the student’s final numeric grade in the course assessed by the Georgia Milestones EOC.

(2)(f). ‘For students who entered ninth grade for the first time after July 1, 2011, the numeric score on the Georgia Milestones EOC shall count for 20% of the student’s final numeric grade in the course assessed by the Georgia Milestones EOC.

In the absence of the EOC score, the school will lack this portion of the final course grade and would be compelled to calculate that course grade without this required component. Simply put, this would result in a course grade that would not reflect the true achievement of the student.

In addition to the direct impact upon students as noted above, districts and schools receive no credit towards their annual accountability measures when a student does not participate in state testing. This can, in turn, negatively impact both the perception and standing of districts and schools with a broader potential impact upon entire communities. The lack of a test score specifically impacts the required participation rate that schools and districts must meet, along with preventing a complete and accurate picture of the academic performance and quality of instructional programs.

Question: Will the Milestones be required for graduation?

Knox Phillips: Milestones will affect graduation because the End-of-Course assessment for high school students makes up 20% of the final grade in the respective course, which could affect a student’s passing score for required high school courses that are needed for conferral of high school completion and graduation.

Question: Will students in 3rd 5th and 8th grades need to perform at grade level to be promoted?

Knox Phillips: Yes. 3rd, 5th, and 8th grade students must score proficiently on the Reading and Vocabulary components of the ELA End-of-Grade assessment to be considered for promotion. In addition, 5th and 8th grade students must also score at either the Developing Learner, Proficient Learner, or Distinguished Learner achievement level to in mathematics to be promoted to the next grade level (i.e., Levels 2, 3, 4).

Question: If students in 3rd, 5th, or 8th grade opt out, can you use other data points for promotion?

Knox Phillips: Yes. Students in these grade levels will be recommended for retest and summer school due to the lack of available Milestones data. Local schools will begin their local promotion/retention appeals hearings in the month of July. Other data points will be considered by the local school promotion/retention committees and students of parents who refused participation in the Milestones will have to participate in a complementary assessment to measure the skills readiness and provide additional insight into the student’s readiness for the next grade level.

Question: What should parents do if they would like to opt out?

Knox Phillips: According to guidance provided by the state of Georgia and the Georgia Department of Education, Parents who wish to advocate for a change in testing requirements may be encouraged to contact their federal legislators and to work within the legislative process.

As stated earlier, both state and federal laws currently require the annual assessment of all students enrolled in public schools in identified grades and courses and neither law nor policy currently allow for a parent to opt a student out of this requirement for any reason.

Parents in DeKalb can express their concerns to local school principals who, in turn, will forward their concerns to the district director for research, assessment, and grants for an official response and guidance to the parent and school principal on the process and next steps.


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.