Over one-quarter of eligible Washington state high school juniors opted out of taking the Smarter Balanced exams this past spring, according to preliminary statistics released by the state education department—but in reality, the opt-out rate could be much higher.
Officially, 27.4 percent of eligible students were “confirmed refusals” for taking the Smarter Balanced English/language arts exam, and 28.1 percent of them were confirmed refusals for the math exam. However, the percentage of potential refusals for the state could actually be much higher—the department puts the share of “potential refusals” at anywhere between 28 percent and 53 percent for both the math and E/LA tests, which are aligned to the Common Core State Standards.
That means more than half of juniors didn’t take the test. But the state isn’t yet sure whether some of them officially refused the test or didn’t take it for some other reason.
How do those opt-out rates in high school compare to opt-out rates for other grades on Smarter Balanced? Here’s a chart from the state department with the answer:
“My hope is that now that we’ve seen the new tests in action, more students will participate next year, especially in 11th grade,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn said in a statement. “Eleventh graders who score a 3 or 4 on the tests are considered ready for credit-bearing coursework, and may avoid placement tests once they get into college.”
The department’s release states that, “When a large number of students do not take state tests, drawing statewide conclusions about student learning is difficult.” And test refusals count for test scores of zero when factored into school accountability ratings.
The high opt-out rate for a single grade drove the state’s overall participation rate below the 95-percent participation rate that the federal government requires for students eligible to be tested. The Washington state department says that one potential consequence would be for the federal government to withhold certain funds. But it’s not yet clear how the U.S. Department of Education will respond to Washington’s statistics, which, remember, are only preliminary, and how they’ll deal with the state as well as individual districts and schools with high opt-out rates..
Kyle Stokes of KPLU radio noted that it’s unclear to what extent many juniors (over 42,000 statewide) didn’t take the test because they didn’t need to pass it to graduate, or because there’s greater dissatisfaction with standardized testing in general. Stokes reports that opt-out rates at four high schools in Seattle were particularly high, and that in 80 districts, at least 10 percent of juniors didn’t take the test.
Last week, I wrote about students in Washington state, as well as Idaho and Oregon, largely beating predictions for how they’d do on Smarter Balanced, although high school math scores lagged behind other results.
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.