In an act of radical and frustrating clarity, the Maryland State Board of Education this past week shut down a local debate over whether parents and students can opt out of standardized assessments.

No, they said. You may not.

The Frederick County Board of Education had sought the state board’s direction after protests by parents and students over forced participation in state testing, such as PARRC — the Common Core-driven Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

But a blanket refusal to refuse — or opt out — fails to make sense. It also undermines the efforts of the local school board to evolve a pliant opt-out and refusal policy, and it unduly affects one particular category of students for whom testing serves little, if any, purpose.

Where we can understand denying the right to refuse to those competent to make decisions for themselves, what is hard to believe is that the state wishes to go ahead and test students so severely mentally disabled, they’re unable to push a button without assistance.

Take Nikki Moberly’s daughter, Erin, for instance, who has the intellectual capability of a 3-month-old. Moberly has campaigned for her daughter to be exempted from state testing. (In the interest of full disclosure, Moberly is a columnist for The Frederick News-Post.)

The ultimate result of the state’s ruling is to force parents such as Moberly into unnecessary confrontation with teachers and school administrators who must enforce the law.

Liz Barrett, a member of the Frederick County school board, said she was furious and frustrated at the ruling. “There appears to be no mechanism to say no,” she said.

Barrett’s points were echoed by a fellow board member.

“I feel that the state findings don’t recognize the wide variety of human beings we deal with every day,” Colleen Cusimano said. “Therefore, I imagine there will be opposition to those findings. I hope so. I will be supporting that opposition.”

Cusimano and Barrett, who have headed the push to develop the refusal policy, are rightfully angry. We’re frustrated too that the State Board of Education has been this tone-deaf, even as we understand the statewide school system is hemmed in by inflexible federal mandates. The district is obligated to test each student, regardless of their capacity for testing, in order to meet a federal mandate — test 95 percent of students, or risk federal funding. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, a federal law, requires that students with disabilities be tested, with no blanket state-level opt-out policy for severely disabled students, according to the Maryland school board’s written opinion in response to the Frederick County board’s inquiry.

But looking at the statistics of students aged 6 to 21 served under IDEA, it appears unlikely that offering the opt-out option to the parents of severely mentally impaired students would threaten federal funding. According to the Maryland Board of Education’s own Fact Book for 2013-2014, which contains enrollment statistics, 102,578 students were in special education out of a total population of 866,169. Of those, 30,876 were classified with specific learning disabilities — about 3.6 percent of the total school population; 8,095 were classified as having developmental delays. While the fact book doesn’t outline specific details of how many severely mentally disabled students are served statewide, it’s hard to imagine they comprise more than a fraction of that 3.6 percent, and that not testing them would come close to violating that federally required 95 percent.

The Maryland General Assembly debated and ultimately failed to act on a statewide opt-out policy for students this year. Next year, they should take up this discussion again, tailoring an option for the small percentage of children for whom testing is a pointless exercise.

(9) comments

Mom2preemies

What does this have to do about a charter school? Our severly mentally and physically disabled children are being FORCED to take a test for money when they don't even understand what a test is. Our children deserve better!! As a mother of one of these children, I am appalled and once again let down by our school system and our govt. I would like for just one day those oars members come spend the day with my child. See the everyday struggles he intales to do the tasks that you and I take for granted. He does not understand the difference between red and blue but we are asking him to take a test like his normal peers. Wake up! He can't and shouldn't be forced to!!!

DickD

You are right, it has nothing to do with charter schools, but jsk brought that up and I responded to it. So, we were both wrong in a way, but you are right. The only difference is if there was no State or local control over a charter school, they could opt out of the tests. If this is what jsk meant to say, I would agree, but that would mean we are subsidizing a private school with tax money, which I am against.

And the major point, where I am also in agreement, your son should not be required to take a test. Can he be allowed to just sign his name and turn in the test without trying to do any of the work?

In fairness to the State, could their problem be one of not knowing where to draw the line for who does or does not take the test?

armillary

Putting the comics in the Opinion section of today's paper was a stroke of genius. I hope you continue to do that on Sundays.

DickD

The State fails to recognize we are all born with equal opportunity, but we are not all equal in ability. This nonsense is typical of those that are not reasonable.

jsklinelga

We obviously need changes in our educational system. Charter schools, under the State control, are not the solutions. New independent schools are. If we found alternative educational opportunities for just 4000 students it would save our county nearly 60 million dollars a year. We need change for multiple reasons. Surely 4000 students could be educated for far less then 60 million dollars a year. (just an example)

DickD

Charter schools are not the answer![thumbdown]

public-redux

It is amusing that you agree with jsk that charter schools are not the answer but for opposite reasons. He because they are under public control. You because they are not.

DickD

But jsk is not really against charter schools, he just wants them to be free of any state or local school board control. In other words, he wants a private school at tax payer expense, which I am against.

DickD

There is no way charter or private schools should be allowed to get tax money. And they are advocating for charter and private schools in across the U.S., even though they have them labeled them "charter".

Private school are not administered by the local, state or federal government, which is what the Republicans are advocating. The Republicans want to use our tax dollars to do it. And although they maintain anyone can go to a charter school, they know and realize, as we do, not all can because it takes someone to give them transportation and they have to apply with no guarantee of acceptance. Students can also be disciplined and removed from the school at their whim, which is not possible in a public school. A public school must take all students, physically and mentally handicapped included. And although they maintain no religion is taught to keep separation of church and state, they resist putting that in writing. On top of that they refuse to accept the State certification of teachers, which the state insists upon for public schools. Of course, they have to right now, but this is what they are objecting to.

School vouchers are even worse, they can be used in private schools and there is no requirement for separation of church and state. Personally, it is my belief our State of Maryland Governor is flirting with a law suit on this issue alone.

Charter schools and vouchers are nothing more than a Republican ruse to eliminate or weaken our public school system, which is the best in the world. If they ruin this, what is next?

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