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How Are States Handling Testing Opt-Outs Under ESSA?

By Alyson Klein — June 04, 2018 2 min read
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Happy Monday and welcome to the next installment of Answering Your Every Student Succeeds Act questions!

The question: This one comes from a school-based leader who preferred to remain anonymous. This leader wants to know “What are the federal guidelines for ‘testing transparency?’ Schools are mandated to get 95 percent participation, but how is that possible if we tell parents of their opt out rights?”

The answer: ESSA is actually really confusing when it comes to test participation. The law says that states and schools must test all of their students, just like under No Child Left Behind, the law ESSA replaced. Under NCLB, though, schools that didn’t meet the 95 percent participation requirement—both for the student population as a whole and subgroups of students, such as English-language learners—were considered automatic failures.

Now, under ESSA, states must figure low testing participation into school ratings, but just how to do that is totally up to them. And states can continue to have laws affirming parents’ right to opt their students out of tests (as Oregon does). ESSA also requires states to mark non-test-takers as not proficient.

State plans—44 of which have been approved by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her team—are all over the map when it comes to dealing with this requirement.

For instance, in Mississippi, New Mexico, and Ohio, schools that don’t reach the 95 percent participation target will see their school grade lowered by one level, going from an A to a B, for example. At least 13 states expect districts and schools to come up with some sort of a plan to address poor test participation. And at least 11 states say that schools could wind up with a lower scores.

But at least six states do the bare minimum that ESSA requires, which is marking students who don’t take the test as not proficient. Some, including Maryland, also note test participation rates on school report cards. Maryland, though, will also calculate school grades that only take into account the kids that took the test.

Colorado also affirms that schools cannot “coerce” parents into letting their children take the tests. But the state will provide information for parents explaining the reasons for administering tests and how results are used. More in our ESSA plan tracker.

Got an ESSA question? Email it to or Or tweet at us @PoliticsK12.

Want to see what other readers are wondering? Here are links to past installments of this feature:

Can Districts Use the SAT or ACT for School Accountability Without State OK?

Which States Are Eschewing School Grades?

How Can Districts and States Use ESSA to Bolster STEM and Computer Science?

What’s Going on With Testing Audits?

What’s Up With ESSA Block Grant Funding?

Is Testing the Only Way a Student Can Achieve Success Under ESSA?

Want to learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act? Here’s some useful information:

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