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Wyoming Denies Parents Right to Opt Children Out of High Stakes Testing

Wyoming Denies Parents Right to Opt Children Out of High Stakes Testing

Last week the Wyoming Department of Education released to the public a letter dated August 27, 2014 from the Attorney General’s office stating that parents have no right to opt their children out of statewide testing in Wyoming public schools. Many Wyoming parents have asked for waivers to opt their children out of high stakes statewide testing and it has been the practise of some school districts to allow parents to opt out. Parents cite a variety of reasons, including concerns over data sharing with the federal government, the intrusiveness of the tests, the amount of testing, and the stress put on their children. The opinion did not address the question of what reprisals a parent who opts their child out might face.

The opinion was in response to a request issued by the Wyoming Department of Education (WDE) back in the spring seeking assurance that the WDE and the State Board of Education were correct in enforcing a policy that would not allow parents to opt out on testing days at their child’s school. Most of the rationales in the opinion center on the power of federal and state accountability measures to trump parental rights. Attorney General Peter Michael opined further that local school districts are required to comply with legislatively mandated accountability measures and are therefore allowed to require all school children to take the tests that will ultimately determine the fate of their local schools.

Mr. Michael pointed to the 2011 Wyoming Accountability Act, noting that the Act calls for stricter penalties for failing to achieve certain legislatively defined goals than the older 2004 law does. “Today, a school’s performance rating carries with it even more consequences under both state and federal law. Under Wyoming law, each school is categorized into one of four performance levels, and consequences flow from that categorization.”

Citing these state entanglements as well as federal strings under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Attorney General stated that assessments were necessary to define what category each Wyoming school would be placed under and therefore each child is required to take the tests.

“As the Department indicated in its request, an alternative policy that would permit parents to opt their children out could compromise the integrity of the information which determines school classification and adequate yearly progress.” To whom, we must ask, are the schools accountable: children and parents or a bureaucratic category?

Wyoming parents now find themselves in the untenable position of being required to fight for the best interests of their child. Really, should the state be allowed to punish parents into going against what they believe is in their child’s best interest -- for the sake of “the integrity of the information” needed to determine “accountability” to a system? Has education policy come to this? Is the Attorney General telling parents that they can no longer make reasonable requests that involve their rightful authority to direct their children’s education because the system demands more data?

What the next steps will be is anyone’s guess. This much is obvious: Wyoming lawmakers need to clarify in statue that parents have and have always had the authority to direct the care and education of their children, including opting out of statewide testing in the public schools.

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Wednesday, 20 September 2017
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