Your Education Road Map

Politics K-12®

ESSA. Congress. State chiefs. School spending. Elections. Education Week reporters keep watch on education policy and politics in the nation’s capital and in the states. Read more from this blog.

Every Student Succeeds Act

Here’s How Some States’ ESSA Plans Address Testing Opt-Outs

By Andrew Ujifusa — April 05, 2017 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print


Nine states and the District of Columbia had turned in their state plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act as of Monday evening, according to an Education Week survey of states. One tricky issue states have to address in those plans is how to deal with schools where less than 95 percent of all students take required state exams.

Under ESSA, states are allowed to have laws on the books affirming parents’ right to opt their children out of these tests. But ESSA also requires that states administer these tests to all students—with sanctions kicking in if the participation rate falls below 95 percent—and meaningfully differentiate schools based on participation rate in some fashion. Just how states address this issue if the participation rate of all students (or a subgroup of students) at a particular school falls below 95 percent is up to them.

The opt-out movement sprang up in the last several years as part of a broader resistance to testing, and has been particularly strong in states like Colorado, New Jersey, and New York.

So how are states dealing with this issue? Here’s a state-by-state breakdown of what we’ve seen, along with where you can find this in each state’s plan in parentheses. We’re only highlighting the plans submitted to the U.S. Department of Education that have been made publicly available. As you’ll see, some states are specifying some consequences that seem pretty serious, while others are less clear about how exactly this issue will impact school accountability.

Looking for a specific state? Click on it in the menu below to jump to that state:

Connecticut: A school that would get one of the top two grades on the state’s accountability system would be knocked down one ranking if less than 95 percent of all students, or the “high needs” group of students, take the state exam. The high-needs student group is an unduplicated count of students in a school who are from low-income backgrounds, English-learners, or have a disability. (Page 41.)

Delaware: Each Delaware school not reaching 95 percent participation would have to submit a plan showing how it will increase test participation. For schools failing to hit that target over multiple years, the state would “implement additional actions and interventions as appropriate.” (Page 50.)

District of Columbia: The district’s state office of education said it would “implement a system of supports, technical assistance and monitoring” for schools not hitting 95 percent participation. However, schools that miss this target wouldn’t automatically be identified by the school system. Schools that miss the target over multiple years would be subject to additional “actions and interventions.” (Page 33.)

Illinois: Schools not reaching the 95 percent participation mark couldn’t reach the highest score on the academic proficiency indicator. In addition, schools that fail to hit the mark three years in a row would be classified as “chronically underperforming.” The state will also factor participation rate into its method for identifying schools in need of improvement. (Page 98.)

Maine: Schools with participation rates between 75-94 percent would have to submit a plan; schools below 75 percent would have to show steps taken; participation not factored into summative school rating.

Massachusetts: A school’s overall summative rating would decline if a school doesn’t hit 95 percent participation. But the plan doesn’t say by how much the rating would dip. (Page 49.)

Michigan: An eligible student who does not take a state exam would count for zero in terms of proficiency when making calculations in the state accountability system.

Nevada: The Silver State has a three-tier system for dealing with schools that miss the participation target: participation warning, participation penalty, and continuing participation penalty. In the warning stage, the school’s failure to hit the target would be shown along with its index score and “star rating.” In the penalty stage, a school’s “status indicator” would be reduced “by a significant number of points.” In the continuing penalty stage, schools would earn zero points for the student proficiency indicator. (Page 32.)

New Jersey: In a school that doesn’t hit the participation rate, each student that contributes to the school falling below the 95 percent threshold would be counted as “not proficient” in the calculation of proficiency rates. That’s what ESSA’s statutory language requires. (Page 73.)

New Mexico: A school will have its A-F letter grade dropped by one letter if 95 percent of its students don’t participate on either the state English/language arts or math exam. This is an approach New Mexico has used in recent years.

Tennessee: Any school not hitting 95 percent participation for all students, or for subgroups of students, would get an F grade on the achievement indicator for the corresponding group of students. (Page 46.)

You might remember that the now-discarded ESSA accountability rules from the Obama administration would have allowed the Education Department to come up with a menu of options for states to choose from in dealing with schools with high opt-out rates, or come up with their own strategies.

Vermont: If less than 95 percent of students at a school take a required exam, the school’s preliminary summative score would be multiplied by the percentage of students who did take the exam. That percentage would be the average of the percentages of all reportable student subgroups who did take the test.

Need a refresher about ESSA? Click here for our explainer. And check out a video version of our ESSA explainer here: