JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri lawmaker believes some statewide standardized tests should come with an explicit opt-out option, and on Monday he presented a draft of a bill that would do just that.
House Bill 2315, sponsored by Rep. Kurt Bahr, R-St. Charles, would codify this right for statewide tests used to assess teachers and administrators, such as the Missouri Assessment Program, or MAP test. Normal course exams that are taken for the purpose of assessing students would not be affected.
Billie Wells, a Columbia mother with a child at Rock Bridge Elementary School, said standardized tests are helpful in evaluating a student's progress. But she was concerned about teachers' lack of control in determining how to best teach their students.
When it came to Bahr's bill, Wells was supportive.
"I like the proposal," she said. "I think it should be the parent's choice if they want their child to take the test or not."
At a public hearing Monday evening, Bahr presented the bill before the House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education.
Several other states have already adopted similar laws. This particular bill’s language is being modeled after a proposal passed in Oregon, Bahr said.
In addition to the new opt-out requirement, Bahr’s bill would also mandate that school districts send a letter to parents informing them of the test's benefits. Included in that letter would be a form to opt-out of the exam.
"We’re educating the parents as to why this test has value, but we’re also allowing the parents to be able to say, 'I don’t want my student to take this test,'" Bahr said.
Constance Rush, director of legislative outreach for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, testified against the opt-out portion of the bill.
Originally, assessments like the MAP test were meant to increase transparency and provide a standard metric to measure student progress, Rush said. She continued by expressing concern for possible unintended consequences of a new opt-out requirement.
Civil rights groups, such as the NAACP, have strongly opposed opt-outs in the past because students with disabilities, those who come from low income families and minorities may be discouraged from taking the tests, Rush explained. The lack of diversity would mask differences in achievement between students, jeopardizing the ability to identify and close such gaps.
Otto Fajen, legislative director for the Missouri National Education Association, also testified before the committee. He expressed a different concern: the unwarranted pervasiveness of statewide exams.
Standardized tests aren’t the best way to identify achievement gaps, he said. They may not even be the best way to try.
"We don’t need to spend $30 million a year on tests to know that’s going on," Fajen said. "What we need is to focus in on each kid, and to make sure that the school districts are empowered to really teach each kid each day in each subject the way they need."
Asked if granting students the ability to opt-out could send out a dangerous message by discouraging certain groups from testing, Fajen said that such a consequence would be "independent of this legislation."
As of Friday, House Bill 2315 hadn't been scheduled yet for any further action.
Supervising editor is Katie Kull.