The Frederick County Board of Education is considering a policy to guide county schools when students refuse to take state standardized tests.
At least three members of the seven-member school board have already signaled their support for such a policy. Supporters on the board hope a policy would codify parents’ right to refuse tests on behalf of their children.
Discussion on testing refusals has intensified, largely due to the recent implementation of the controversial Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam, which is aligned to the state Common Core Standards. The first-ever statewide results for PARCC were released in late October, and were generally poor across the board.
While Frederick County Public Schools permits a child to refuse a test without consequence, the local school board has expressed frustration that the Maryland State Department of Education has not provided direction for what students should do in place of the test or how to treat parent refusals.
The Board of Education has heard conflicting responses from MSDE.
One parent, Cindy Rose, appealed to the school board in August on whether the school system could test her children without her permission. A document made public during the appeal process, on Maryland State Department of Education letterhead, stated that MSDE has advised local school systems to decline requests for refusals and to not provide alternative instruction during test times.
No state law or regulation exists pertaining to testing refusals.
The school board formally requested in mid-October that the state school board clarify its position on testing refusals. Board Vice President Liz Barrett said board members have repeatedly asked for guidance.
MSDE was closed on Wednesday for Veterans Day, and a representative could not be reached for comment.
For an item such as the refusal policy to be added to the school board’s agenda, one board member must submit a formal written request, with two other members signing off that they support discussion.
Board member Colleen Cusimano wrote the refusal policy request. Barrett and board member April Miller added their names.
Cusimano said she would appreciate feedback from the state, but characterized that as unlikely. Her goal would be to formalize a policy before the spring state standardized testing window opens in March.
The school board would discuss the policy in February, President Brad Young said.
Cusimano said in a separate interview that she hopes the board moves quickly in enacting a policy.
She said PARCC will eventually be a high school graduation requirement, but the state likely will offer alternate routes for graduation, as MSDE currently does if a student can’t pass the previous testing regiment.
Some students have testing anxiety, she said, and not performing well on a single exam shouldn’t prevent them from getting a high school diploma.
“So many students are very successful students who don’t perform well on an individual test,” she said.
No consistent practice has been applied when a student refuses to take a test, Cusimano said. In an October email to The Frederick News-Post, school district attorney Jamie Cannon said FCPS has advised schools to let children who refuse remain in the classroom. Students who refuse to take the PARCC may read a book, Cannon wrote.
Not all schools follow this suggestion to the letter, Cusimano said.
According to school district spokesman Michael Doerrer, 22 Frederick County students refused the PARCC in 2014-15.
In Washington County, the school board has not discussed testing opt-outs or locking in opt-out procedures, district spokesman Richard Wright said. He said he was surprised Frederick County would have such a policy, given the state’s “strong stance on it.”
Carroll County Public Schools revised its assessment policy in June, according to Gregory Bricca, the district’s director of research and accountability.
Carroll officials intentionally left out language pertaining to whether children must be assessed, Bricca said. That was partly because only a handful of “fairly insistent parents” expressed concerns about their children being administered the PARCC, he said. Some parents opted out by keeping children home during the test.
“We didn’t track every kid down and make them test, but if they were in school, we did assess them,” Bricca said.
Young was concerned that establishing a policy might jeopardize state or federal money. State and federal law mandate that the school district administers these tests.
Superintendent Terry Alban echoed Young’s worries.
“It will come down to the way it’s written,” she said.
Barrett called PARCC “a sham.” The initial idea failed to standardize testing, so students across multiple states could be compared, she said.
Other states in the consortium that adopted PARCC have developed their own scoring system, Barrett said. Both parents and students should be able to refuse a test they might not want to take and that is “developmentally inappropriate,” she said.
“I’m kind of tired [of] being patient about waiting for the state,” Barrett said. “I’d like to move in an advocacy direction and a policymaking direction, and I’m eager to do that.”
Board member Katie Groth, however, said that adopting a policy would conflict with the state’s recommendations. She said the board has a lot more to address in the school district than a refusal policy.
Some, like Cannon at the Rose hearing, have argued that a policy would encourage students or parents to refuse. In an interview, Miller said the policy would let students who can’t speak for themselves be represented by a parent and reduce anxiety among students and parents.
“You might have a really good student, and to refuse a test, they have to confront an authority figure and say no,” Miller said. “That should be a decision between a parent and the child.”