Policies allowing children to opt out of academic assessments vary by state and, at times, can be confusing, according to a new report by the Educational Commission of the Statesa Denver-based nonprofit that researches and tracks education policy.

For example, California, Utah and Wisconsin are three states that explicitly allow parents to opt their children out of state assessments for any reason, according to the report. In California, parents are required to submit a written request to opt out of testing. 

However, parents in Arkansas and Iowa, among others, are forbidden from opting their children out, according to the report. An additional 16 states, including Arizona, Delaware, Florida and Hawaii, do not allow students to opt out of state-mandated assessments, according to the report’s authors, who obtained information about opt-out policies from all states except Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Maine and Montana.

The report was released  just as California and 42 other states are beginning to give the required statewide assessments that will measure how well students are learning math and English language arts tied to the new Common Core State Standards.

Some of the states generally do not honor opt-out requests, except for emergencies. Delaware, for example, explicitly states that students can only be exempted from a mandatory assessment if they have experienced an “extreme medical incident” or for mental health reasons.

While a number of states prohibit students from opting out of testing, many do not spell out what the consequences are for students who don’t take mandated exams. Ohio was a notable exception, stating specific consequences for opting out: 3rd-graders could be held back a grade, English language learners may be prevented from exiting language development programs and high school students might not be able to graduate, according to the report.

But some states’ opt-out policies seem to be in a state of flux, including Ohio’s, said Julie Rowland, one of the report’s authors. As an example, she said, just after the report was published this week, Ohio’s State Superintendent Richard Ross said that districts would not be sanctioned if large numbers of students elected not to take the test, according to an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal issued an executive order in late January that would allow parents to opt out of assessments, and is calling for a special meeting with the state’s school board to clarify the state’s opt-out policy. Significantly, the governor initially supported the Common Core State Standards and now is staunchly opposed to them.

Here are examples of other states’ policies on opting out of required exams:

  • Oregon and Pennsylvania allow students to opt out for religious beliefs;
  • New York’s Department of Education stated there are no provisions in laws or regulations allowing parents to opt their students out of required tests. New York City Council members are pushing for an opt-out policy;
  • South Dakota requires students to take mandated assessments. However, it allows exemptions for English language learners.

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