Writing Parent’s Rights into Statute

HB 603 as amended by the House is a very important bill to NH parents. It explicitly reinforces parents’ rights to opt out their child from statewide assessments.

It is needed because parents are currently being told by superintendents and principals that the state Department of Education does not allow for any opt out or refusal in statewide assessments The NH DOE has issued technical advisories that are often used in an attempt to intimidate and mislead families.

Although some districts like Manchester and Nashua are working cooperatively with parents who refuse their child’s participation in assessments, others are hostile. Some parents are being told that their children must participate if they are present at school on testing dates. This is problematic for many parents as they would have to either stay home from work or find alternative supervision for their child. Some districts have said that if a child is not at school on testing days, the child would be marked with an unexcused absence for each day. Given that the testing is over several days, they risk truancy charges. Superintendents have told parents that Manchester’s policy is “illegal.” Other districts have pressured students to participate in the assessment with full knowledge it is against the parent’s wishes. An Alton 6th grader was pressured and humiliated in front of his class when the teacher repeatedly asked “are you sure do don’t want to participate?” knowing full-well that the parent had sent in a refusal letter. This is not an isolated case.

The state DOE updated a technical advisory statement on Statewide Assessment Participation and Course Material Exemptions earlier this year. Some school districts have gone so far as to only distribute the first page of this advisory in an attempt to hide the update that acknowledges parent’s rights to refuse the statewide assessment.

ADDENDUM – Added January 13, 2015 
Although RSA 193-C-6 requires all public school students to participate in the statewide assessment (one assessment in English language arts, mathematics and science), there are no laws in the State of New Hampshire or rules at the New Hampshire Department of Education that would penalize a student for not participating in the statewide assessment. Additionally, the same is true if a parent determined that they would not allow their child to participate. However, the district will incur a lower participation rate, which is reported to the public.

The state DOE and some local superintendents tell parents that districts could lose federal funding if their children do not participate in the statewide assessments. This is not fully accurate. The US Congress and Senate are now considering a reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, but have not yet approved it. The existing langue of NCLB is no longer valid.

The original text of NCLB, under its section on state plans, says that to make “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) a school must test 95 percent of its students. In the improvement section, the law establishes sanctions for not making AYP. The penalties apply only to schools receiving Title I funds. Nothing in the law authorizes withholding of federal aid, though up to 20 percent may be required to be diverted to other uses, including tutoring or transporting students to different schools. However, AYP requirements are now irrelevant. More than 40 states have  been given waivers by the Obama administration from the most onerous NCLB sanctions. While AYP reporting requirements remain, waivers remove NCLB punishments from all but the lowest-scoring (“priority”) schools in a state. Thus, schools in waiver states no longer must transport or tutor. As a result, the only federal funding penalties specified in the original NCLB law have been suspended.

In addition state statute does not trump federal law and Supreme Court of the US rulings. There are two often-cited Supreme Court cases – the 1923 case of Meyer v. Nebraska and the 1925 case of Pierce v. Society of Sisters – that support this position, as well as the US Constitution.

Clearly parents need a participation option written into statute. Currently RSA 193-C states all children in designated grades must participate in the statewide assessments.  However, the state DOE and local districts are cherry-picking what information to share with parents.

The NH DOE admitted in a January 2015 addendum to the 2014-2015 Statewide Assessment State Approved Special Considerations that parents have the right of refusal. This needs to be included in state statute.

NH Statewide Assessment State Approved Special Considerations, School Year 2014-2015

State assessment policies place a great deal of responsibility on districts to include all students. Districts must juggle state requirements, student needs, and parents’ wishes. Despite a district’s best efforts, situations will arise that prohibit the inclusion of every student. Extended absence, family vacations, significant medical and emotional issues, and parent refusals are but a few of the issues that are not entirely within the district’s control. Students who do not participate are reported in two different ways on assessment reports: did not participate for state approved reasons and did not participate for other reasons. The distinction is particularly important in reading and mathematics accountability reporting since the second case negatively affects reported participation rates, while the first does not.

This language is similar to the Statewide Assessment State Approved Special Considerations that the state DOE has issued for years. The state Department of Education should not oppose acknowledging parents’ rights in state statue as it is already consistent with some of their current documents.

Although the Senate Education Committee already held a public hearing, they have not yet exec’d HB 603. Please contact them to support parent’s rights to direct their child’s education and issue an Ought to Pass (OTP) recommendation. The committee’s recommendation can be very influential when the entire Senate votes on the bill.

To find your NH senator, and his or her contact information, refer to the senate’s roster page.

The following is the Senate Education Committee‘s contact information.

John Reagan, Chairman

Nancy Stiles, Vice Chairman

Kevin Avard

Molly Kelly

David Watters