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APS proposes ‘kit’ to opt out of testing

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque Public Schools is working to create a uniform process for parents who want to remove their children from standardized testing – an effort aimed at combating widespread confusion about “opting out.”

During the APS Board of Education’s policy and instruction committee meeting Wednesday afternoon, administrators outlined a proposal to provide a “tool kit” for schools and parents, which would include an opt-out form, frequently asked questions sheet and calendar of tests by grade level.

The kit would be available on the APS website and in the schools, according to Rose-Ann McKernan, executive director of the APS office of accountability and reporting.

In a presentation on the proposed process – which was only up for discussion Wednesday – she explained that parents who want their kids to skip one or more standardized tests would complete the form and return it to the APS central office or their child’s school.

The central office would keep track of the forms and create a report for each school, listing students who have opted out. Principals would come up with ideas for alternative assignments for nontesting students and submit them to APS administrators.

The goal is to provide parents with “some very straightforward direction,” McKernan said.

She added that she hopes to avoid the uncertainty that arose during the 2014-2015 school year, when the controversial Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test was administered for the first time. Critics have said that PARCC reduces children to statistics, and is too long and difficult.

Last year, parents requested testing opt-outs for about 4,000 students by communicating with principals and teachers, who kept track of which kids were sitting out.

APS board President Don Duran said he heard there was general confusion about the opt-out process, as well as the purpose of the various tests and potential ramifications of skipping them.

Adding to the problem was the recent lack of opt-out information on the APS website, something parents have complained about at board meetings.

On Wednesday, board members said they felt the proposed “tool kit” was a good solution, though there were questions about the legality of opting out.

The New Mexico Public Education Department claims that “by law, all students without an exemption for medical reasons are required to take the state assessment.”

But APS director of government affairs and policy Carrie Menapace told the board Wednesday that the law is murky.

She said that parents can legally take their children out of sex education, so the question is whether opting out of standardized testing is similarly a “reasonable” parental right.

“That is where the gray area comes and that is why it is confusing,” she said.

Menapace acknowledged that PED has told APS there is no right to opt out, citing federal statute that schools must have 95 percent participation in testing or they will be dropped a letter grade in their ratings and possibly lose federal funds.

But Duran commented that families should not be “held in blackmail” by these potential impacts.

“That shouldn’t be put on kids and parents,” he said.

Many board members expressed objections to standardized testing in general, with Steven Michael Quezada saying he hopes the community will push to get rid of much it.

“There is a pretty good feeling on this board that we need some change, and that we need to start concentrating on teachers and supporting teachers and students,” he said.

Retired APS teacher Gerald Schneider attended the committee meeting and felt the discussion was “very positive.”

He explained that he feels testing in its current form is not valid and wastes time.

In an emailed statement, PED spokesman Robert McEntyre argued that assessments are “essential yearly measures of academic progress for our kids that allow schools and parents to better help and support struggling students.”

The APS board will discuss the opt-out process again at its next regular board meeting, 5 p.m. Wednesday, at the APS central office.

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