"To: Superintendents and principals
Re: Participation Rates
On September 17, ODE will release statewide test results, including results on the new Smarter Balanced Assessment. As preliminary results released in early July showed, Oregon students greatly exceeded expectations on this new assessment – a true testament to the hard work of students and educators across the state. However, this release will only include information for those students who took the tests. And while our state met the overall federal participation target, many of our schools and districts did not.
Statewide, our participation rate was just barely over the 95 percent required by the U.S. Department of Education. Unfortunately, our state missed this target for two key student groups, African American students and Students with Disabilities which had statewide participation rates of 93% in both the English language arts and math assessments. But even more troubling are the participation numbers coming out of some of our school districts. Twenty-four Oregon districts had overall participation rates below 95%. Over 100 districts missed this participation target for at least one student group.
I am deeply concerned by this decrease in participation for a number of reasons. Oregon schools risk losing $344 million in federal funds if our participation drops too low. But in additional to the financial risk, there is also a very real impact on our critical school and district improvement efforts. In particular, the drop in participation will limit our ability to identify and address achievement and opportunity gaps for our students in poverty, students of color, and students with disabilities.
In the coming weeks, I will be reaching out to those districts who missed the overall participation target to provide support and direction regarding next steps. With the passage of House Bill 2655, that goes into effect on January 1 and gives parents and adult students the right to annually opt out of statewide summative assessments, it will be more important than ever that districts communicate with their parents and communities about the purpose and value of these tests so that we can address parents’ concerns and help them understand the impact of opting out.
At the end of August, we will be sharing a back-to-school toolkit with resources to help communicate about the standards, assessments, and results with parents and students as they return from summer break. Parents will have questions about what their child’s results mean and what schools and teachers are doing to ensure students are on track for future success.
Stay tuned for additional information on all of these fronts. If you have questions about communicating about the test results or importance of participation, please contact Meg Koch. If you have questions about the assessment, please contact Derek Brown."
Here is the response to Noor's letter from some members of Oregon Save Our Schools, written to Dr. Nancy Golden, Oregon's Chief Education Officers. The letter was penned by Dr. Rex Hagans (full disclosure: he's my dad) and signed by other members of our organization. Oregon Save Our Schools and Oregon BATs will be asking more concerned educators, parents, and citizens to sign on to the letter over the next few days.
Oregon Save Our Schools is deeply concerned with what appears to be an effort by the Oregon Department of Education to delay and evade the full and immediate exercise of the parental rights made clear by the passage of the historic “Student Assessment Bill of Rights” (HB 2655) this past legislative session.
In his August 17 communication to superintendents and principals about Participation Rates in Summative Assessments, Deputy Superintendent Salam Noor makes the following statement:
“Statewide, our participation rate was just barely over the 95 percent required by the U.S. Department of Education - I am deeply concerned by this decrease in participation for a number of reasons. With the passage of House Bill 2655, that goes into effect on January 1 and gives parents and adult students the right to annually opt out of statewide summative assessments, it will be more important than ever that districts communicate with their parents and communities about the purpose and value of these tests so that we can address parents’ concerns and help them understand the impact of opting out.”
First, Deputy Superintendent Noor should know that parents already had the right to opt their students out of statewide summative assessments prior to HB 2655. HB 2655 simply corrected state law that unconstitutionally limited parent opt out rights to reasons of religion or disability.
Standing in stark contrast to the tone and intent of this entire communication are these words from Oregon’s Student Assessment Bill of Rights:
“At the beginning of each school year, each school district and public charter school shall ensure that parents and adult students are provided with a notice about statewide summative assessments. The notice shall be established by the Department of Education and must include information about statewide summative assessments, the time frame when the statewide summative assessments most likely will be administered and a student’s or parent’s right to excuse the student from taking the statewide summative assessments.
We are well aware that the Oregon’s Student Assessment Bill of Rights provides that districts are not required to provide this notice of the right to opt their student out until 2016. Everyone who has followed the process of this legislation is also quite aware that this provision was a sop to those few legislators who bitterly opposed the Oregon’s Student Assessment Bill of Rights in the first place. It was the contention of these few legislators that the threat made by the U.S. Department of Education to withhold federal funds (clearly made in retaliation for Oregon’s decision to clarify that parents have this right) was a reason to not pass the Student Assessment Bill of Rights. While it is a sad commentary on the quality of our current Federal leadership that this threat was ever issued in the first place, and while we believe that Oregon clearly should directly and vigorously reject it on the grounds that Education is designated as a state right in the Constitution, the fact is that it is increasingly unlikely that the USDOE will even continue to pretend to have this power once the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is reauthorized.
According to an article by Mercedes Schneider, a noted commentator and author of “Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?:”
“Both the House and Senate have passed proposed authorizations of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, and both House and Senate versions have opt-out provisions that allow for states to avoid being penalized for students whose parents opt them out of federally mandated testing.
That’s right: Both House and Senate versions of the ESEA reauthorization provide a means for students who opt out to not be counted against the “95 percent” that the state is supposed to test as a condition for receiving Title I funding.”
So it would appear that whatever version of ESEA passes, there will be no penalty for opting out going on into the future. This decision will be entirely up to the state. In all likelihood, we will have a new ESEA by testing time. Even if we don't, the future direction of Federal policy is quite clear and very consistent with the laudable intent of the Oregon’s Student Assessment Bill of Rights. Add to that the fact that no state has yet lost funding so far via opt out - not even New York, with its 200,000 opt outs last year – and it becomes more and more obvious that the loss of federal funding is a paper tiger. It is a toothless attempt to hold Oregon’s parents hostage to failed and rejected policies of both the Kitzhaber and Obama administration.
Further, just today this appeared in the New York Times:
"School districts will not be penalized for having large numbers of students refuse to sit for the New York State standardized tests this year, education officials said on Thursday, ending months of uncertainty over how they would respond to a growing anti-testing movement.
For months, state and federal officials warned that districts that fell below a 95 percent participation rate might lose federal funds, while the leaders of the so-called opt-out movement have dismissed these as empty threats.
But on Thursday, the chancellor of the State Board of Regents, Merryl H. Tisch, said that the federal Education Department informed the state’s Education Department “a couple of weeks ago” that it was leaving any decision about financial penalties to the state. And Ms. Tisch, whose board oversees the state agency and appoints the commissioner, said the state did not plan to withhold money from districts."
So there is now solid evidence that the Federal threat was indeed an empty one.
We believe that Oregon’s parents and children would be much better served by strong leadership which not only accepts but embraces the important principles embodied in Oregon’s Student Assessment Bill of Rights, and uses this coming year to move to implement it as fully as possible. That approach will avoid yet more bitter and divisive public struggles and strengthen, rather than weaken Oregon’s entire educational “family.”
We urge you to use your considerable influence and make changing this deplorable situation one of your first leadership acts in your new position.
Thank you for your consideration of this matter. We look forward to a timely response.
Oregon Save Our Schools