40 percent of Madison students still opt out of SBAC

REXBURG — Madison School District leaders may have reconsidered their stance toward state-standardized testing, but many of the district’s patrons are still adamantly against the Idaho Standards Achievement Test by Smarter Balanced.

As of Monday, parents had opted out some 40 percent of Madison students scheduled to take the ISAT. Those students will pursue state-approved alternative paths to graduation, district officials said.

“I would love if every child in our district opted out so we could send a message back to Boise that we as parents have done the research and (this test) is not good for our kids,” parent Jackie Rawlins said. “We want to make a statement so they will listen and hear us.”

Rawlins is the founder of Madison Parents for Opting Out, a Facebook group dedicated to helping parents learn about and discuss the impacts of the state-standardized test.

Group members feel the test is too lengthy for students and educators are not given enough information about the test to adequately prepare students. Rawlins also is concerned the ISAT doesn’t provide useful feedback to students or teachers.

Madison Parents for Opting Out formed earlier this month after District 321’s school board reversed its position on offering the ISAT test.

Previously, Madison’s board announced plans to opt out of the Common Core-aligned test in favor of the Measures of Academic Progress test, or MAP. The test, officials said, is shorter, costs less to administer and testing results come back sooner.

But the district’s plan met significant opposition in Boise with state officials claiming Madison was risking financial sanctions against the entire state.

A stipulation of Idaho’s federal No Child Left Behind waiver was 95 percent of its students take an end-of-year assessment — this year, the ISAT by Smarter Balanced. State officials said Idaho stood to lose $11.6 million if it fell short of the 95 percent requirement.

Geoff Thomas
Madison Superintendent Geoff Thomas

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra and Gov. Butch Otter urged Superintendent Geoff Thomas and the board to reconsider. After consulting with legal council, the board voted 3-to-1 to reinstitute the ISAT.

“The board determined the result of not giving the test could have been significantly punitive,” Thomas said. “The board decided perhaps we had made our point … not one of defiance, just that we really feel MAP is a superior test.”

State Department of Education Spokesman Jeff Church said the ISAT by Smarter Balanced assessments will be scored and results will be returned to districts in about 10 days, depending on when testing starts and finishes.

Letting parents opt out

District 321 began administering the ISAT to students last week. But the test hasn’t been billed as an academic requirement. The district’s official stance is to neither encourage nor discourage taking the ISAT, Thomas said.

Unlike most districts in eastern Idaho, Madison allows parents to opt their children out of the test and pursue alternative routes to graduation. “We’ve honored every parent opt out request because we believe it’s a parent’s right,” Thomas said.

Parents are already given the right to opt children out of field trips, school activities or work with educators to modify teaching methods. Thomas said in all cases the district works to find an alternative to meet the needs of the students.

“So if a parent says I don’t want my child to take this test we’ll find an alternative educational opportunity for them,” Thomas said.

Rexburg parent Myranda Evans called the option to opt out a reassurance for parents that there is local control of their children’s education.

“There are a lot of questions about this test that just aren’t being answered,” Evans said. “And what’s good for us here, is not necessarily the same as what good for schools in Boise.”

Chuck Shackett
Bonneville Superintendent Chuck Shackett

But not everyone is reassured by Madison’s allowances. Officials in surrounding school districts are frustrated with District 321’s actions. Bonneville Joint School District 93 doesn’t allow parents to opt out because the ISAT is a state-mandated graduation requirement.

“You can’t legally do that … they can’t opt them out, it’s against the law,” Superintendent Chuck Shackett said. “We’ve had a heck of a time because of Madison. Parents say they want to opt out and we tell them it’s against the law – then they say ‘well Madison’s doing it.’”

Shackett doesn’t believe school districts have a legal right to let parents opt children out of state-standardized tests.

Thomas maintains however, that Madison’s decision is legal and is the best thing for students and parents in his district.

“When other superintendents say it’s illegal, I’d like to hear them cite chapter and verse of exactly what law was broken,” Thomas said. “Are we really going to equate a parent choosing their right to opt out with a violation of the law like vandalism or theft?”