Starting the Year Right

The beginning of the school year is an opportune time to establish a clear directive with your child’s school regarding all the various assessments administered throughout the year. Traditionally standardized testing begins in October, so if it is your intention to refuse your child’s participation in these assessments, submit your wishes in writing promptly.

Some New Hampshire schools were cooperative with parents and respected refusals regarding participation in the statewide assessment; however, many were not. Some districts were hostile, uncooperative, and actively tried to undermine parents’ wishes to withdraw their children from testing. Administrators have even resorted to fear-mongering that the district could lose federal funding although not a single state or district in the county has lost funds due to low participation rates.

For this reason, parents may wish to send a letter to their local School Administrative Unit (SAU) and school if they do not want their children to participate in the various assessments. Copies should be sent to the SAU (district) office, the school principal, as well as the teacher to ensure that all parties are informed. Mailing it via certified mail provides proof that the staff received notification.

There are several variations of refusal letters and they may be adapted to better suit an individual family’s needs. Multiple examples can be found at FairTest.org, in a March article we published, and this unaccredited document. New Hampshire law does not have opt-out provisions, so any letter should use the keyword “refuse.”

The New Hampshire Department of Education is inconsistent with its approach to parents’ rights to  refuse assessments. Each year the state DOE issues a document titled NH Statewide Assessment State Approved Special Consideration. In it they acknowledge that parental refusals are beyond the department’s control. Parental refusal is not a state approved reason for non-participation, but has always been accepted.

In the most recent report available, the 2013-2014 school year, a small but consistent number of students did not participate in the statewide assessments for reasons other than those approved by the state — 558 students did not participate in the Science assessment, 847 missed the reading assessment, 883 skipped the math test, and 723 did not participate in the writing assessment. Full results are available on the NH Department of Education’s website. We expect the refusals were significantly higher this past year, the first time New Hampshire used the Smarter Balanced Assessment, the Common Core aligned exam. It is estimated that more than 500 Manchester students refused participation as of March. Similarly Nashua had a significant opt-out rate with almost half of the junior class refusing participation. The state DOE has not yet published results for the most recent school year.

It is critical to realize that parents’ rights are not limited by state statute. Supreme Court decisions have upheld parents’ rights to direct their children’s education in two 14th Amendment cases — the 1923 Meyer v. Nebraska case and the 1925 case of Pierce v. Society of Sisters.  Even the No Child Left Behind Act states “Parents have the primary responsibility for the education of their children, and States . . . have the primary responsibility for the supporting that parental role” (20 U.S.C. § 3401).

Note that as of this school year, districts may administer the SAT in place of the Smarter Balanced Assessment to 11th graders. This was the compromise reached in House Bill 323. While this option was highly desired by superintendents, and is more meaningful to college-bound students, it is still controversial. As of Spring 2016 the SAT will also be aligned with Common Core and because it is a major redesign of the test, the bugs have not been fully worked through. If juniors wish to take the SAT, there are major changes ahead for which few are prepared. Because of this significant overhaul, many professional college counselors are advising students to take the ACT instead (although that, too, will switch to Common Core in the near future), or consider skipping the traditional college-entry exams completely. Increasingly colleges are devaluing the merits of these tests and are offering “test optional” applications.

This summer Governor Hassan vetoed HB 603, a bill that would have explicitly written parents’ rights to refuse their child’s participation in statewide assessments into state statute. We are trying to overturn the veto when the legislature returns in mid September. Please sign our petition which will send an email in support of parents’ rights to all Senators and Representatives.

Additionally, over the summer Governor Hassan signed HB 206 into law which requires all school districts to establish a policy to provide notification to parents regarding non-academic surveys and questionnaires. It also allows parents to opt-out either in writing or electronically. These surveys take place throughout the year, so be watchful for the notification if you wish to have your child not participate in any of the non-academic questionnaires. Any of the example refusal letters may be written to include non-academic surveys as well as any and all assessments.

For more information about parent’s right to refuse their child’s participation in tests, read the following:

Parents’ Rights Vetoed by Governor Hassan
Parents Rights Upheld for Non-Academic Surveys
HB 603 — Overturn the Veto
Writing Parent’s Rights into Statute
Parents Can Refuse
HB 323 Goes Down to the Wire

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