Political attention comes to parents opting out of tests

SNOHOMISH — Lawmakers say they are listening to a group of a parents who are protesting funding cuts to education.

The parents, who created We Support Schools Snohomish, are letting their children, who are mostly elementary students, opt out of the Measurements of Students Progress tests to make legislators in Olympia pay attention and make them look for other ways to reduce spending.

So far, they have succeeded in half of their goals.

“This is a good way to put pressure on folks,” Rep. Hans Dunshee said. Dunshee, D-Snohomish, agrees with the parents’ protest because he believes the test does not serve an educational purpose and doesn’t help the kids.

Dunshee is not the only legislator who has expressed support for We Support Schools Snohomish. Reps. John McCoy and Mike Hope have already met with the parents’ group.

“I wasn’t expecting the amount of attention,” member Michelle Purcell said.

The movement started at Seattle Hill Elementary School where Purcell is keeping two of her children out of the exam.

So far, 70 children at the school will not be taking the test, which is given to students from third to eighth grade between late April and early June in the Snohomish School District.

The movement has spread to other schools in the district. Another 30 children at Little Cedars and Cathcart elementary schools are opting out, Purcell said.

Purcell also has received messages from parents in Everett, Tacoma and Marysville who have shown some interest. Since Snohomish schools were on spring break last week, Purcell believes the numbers of students not taking the test will increase after school resumes.

“It’s gaining momentum,” she said.

Representatives have been supportive of the idea of cutting standardized testing. Still, they have been cautious about supporting a boycott of this test, which affects the Adequate Yearly Progress — known as AYP — a federal requirement.

Students opting out of the test will receive a zero. These test scores could affect funding to schools categorized as Title I, which are given federal funding if they have high percentages of low-income students,

“Is it an appropriate message? I don’t know. I can’t tell them to violate the law,” said McCoy, D-Tulalip.

He agrees with the group that some standardized testing doesn’t help when scores are given out the next school year. The tests should be changed to where teachers can get the results earlier and be able to make adjustments to their instruction, McCoy said.

“If it’s not federally mandated, I want to eliminate it if it’s not accomplishing anything,” he said.

McCoy and Dunshee were two of 13 state legislators who sponsored House Bill 2231, which aimed to reduce state assessment requirements. The bill did not pass out of the Education Committee but was reintroduced during the special session.

Hope, R-Lake Stevens, said he plans to introduce a bill next year allowing parents and school districts to opt out of state-mandated tests without penalizing students and school districts.

“Parents in my community believe the resources that go to fund tests can be put to better use. I support their position 100 percent,” Hope said in an email.

At the heart of this debate is the No Child Left Behind Act, passed in 2001, which requires standardized testing each year for students between 3rd and 8th grade and once between 10th and 12th grade.

Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, believes standardized testing is needed to check on students’ progress, but current testing is excessive.

“I thinks that’s too much. That’s loss of instructional time and the cost is too high,” she said.

Before, Washington state only gave testing for students in third, seventh and 10th grade, something school districts should go back to, McAuliffe said .

According to numbers provided by the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, the state spends about $38.6 million on the Measurements of Students Progress.

The cost per student starts at $30, but since students might take more than one test, depending on their grade level, the per-student cost can reach up to $90.

Alejandro Dominguez: 425-339-3422; adominguez@ heraldnet.com.

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