Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Opt Out for Special Needs/Exceptional Students

Guide for Opting Out/Refusing High Stakes Testing and Test Preparation for Special Needs/Exceptional Students.

By Merry Juerling
Original document here. 

Yes, parents and IEP Case Conference Committees can absolutely opt out or refuse HST (high stakes tests) and test preparation for a special needs child via the IEP meeting.

You have to advocate for a special needs child's rights to an education free of high stakes testing and test preparation that has no relevance to their actual learning or actual growth as learners. I have never heard of or seen one IEP goal that was measurable by a HST.

The IEP software each of state will probably never have a category for parent opts out/refuses child to participate in standardized testing and test preparation within the IEP section on standardized state testing. With the current teacher assessments tied to HST, the IEP systems definitely won't have an option for teacher opts child out of/refuses child to participate in standardized testing and test preparation. Professional educators know it is unethical to test a child using only one test and so does the ethical standards (Joint Standards) of the testing profession, yet this is exactly what is happening - unethical assessment of all students.

Read your state laws concerning testing and federal laws concerning testing. Your state opt out/refusal guide can be found at www.unitedoptout.com.

The IDEA states:
If the IEP Team determines that the child must take an alternate assessment instead of a particular regular state or district-wide assessment of student achievement, a statement of why--
(A) The child cannot participate in the regular assessment; and
(B) The particular alternate assessment selected is appropriate for the child

During the IEP Case Conference Committee meeting, when the topic of why the child cannot participate in the regular assessment (item A above) is addressed, refer to the following:

Respectfully request the child's Teacher of Record (TOR) include the following #1 through #4 in the notes of the IEP:

1. When it is the Case Conference Committee's right and responsibility to determine a "free and appropriate education" for special needs children (no one else’s, not the state, not the federal government, not a district administrator or anyone else who does not know the child) and no one on the Case Conference Committee can see a high stakes test before it is administered to determine the appropriateness to the individual student's challenges, then no one on the Case Conference Committee can say it is appropriate; therefore, the Case Conference Committee cannot determine its appropriateness. Therefore, a high stakes standardized test cannot be used or even considered.

2.  The “high stakes” of high stakes standardized testing has created hostile working and learning environments <insert your own examples here specific to your child>. Hostile working environments can create stressed-out staff.  It is difficult for staff to administer these tests without their own anxiety being apparent; this occurs with teachers working with the general population as well, not just special needs students

3. These tests only reliably and statistically predict race, poverty and special needs patterns. The Case Conference Committee already knows the statistics of the child and does not need a HST to tell them something they already know.

4.  For these reasons above and many more, HST are NOT appropriate for any child, let alone a special needs child, but most importantly - the parents reserve and exercise their parental rights and child's rights to opt out/refuse the child’s participation in all standardized test and test preparation.

To explain why the particular alternate assessment selected is appropriate for the child (item B above) list the Case Conference Committee's list of appropriate assessments for the child and reasons why.  Some examples are:

Grades: The student’s grades are an assessment of student work and course assessments over time. Professional educators grade student's work and course assessments, therefore, this is an appropriate assessment.

Observations by professional educators: A student's general education teacher, special needs teacher, <insert any and all service providers from IEP> observations are an appropriate assessment of a child's progress; these professionals have multiple contacts with students over time.

Portfolio: A portfolio of a student's work is an appropriate assessment demonstrating the growth of a learner over time.

Read all of the pages of the Notice of Procedural Safeguards; this is the document that you are supposed to be handed at every Case Conference you attend. Also, have them show you the notes section before they save it on to their computer. Have them put the IEP on a projector as you go through the IEP during the IEP meeting.  If possible, send them the information to be added to the notes section via email before the meeting or bring the information on a thumb drive.  You may even want to write a letter with the above information and demand that the letter be uploaded to the IEP itself as a pdf file – and yes, they can do this.

If they say, "We can't do that," be prepared to say, "Are you prepared to put in writing your reasons for refusing to allow my child a free and appropriate education? What are the appropriate alternatives you suggest and how they are appropriate?"

If they can't or won't add the notes suggested here, file a DUE PROCESS. Your child is worth it!

In regard to consequences for opting out/refusing HST – yes - there can be consequences for opting your special needs child out of inappropriate high stakes testing. If you are harassed or feel that your child is being treated unfairly, your state has special needs federally funded organizations (look on the last page of Notice of Procedural Rights) to support you. For referrals to parent advocates or an attorney search for "Disability Legal Services" in your state.

When contacting advocates, be prepared to talk about your knowledge of Due Process at your IEP Case Conference and be prepared to file Due Process. I had to file Due Process after being told, We cannot discuss the state test with you and if you have any questions you must contact the school district superintendent or state DOE Assessment Chief Officer.  I filed on all members of Case Conference, Superintendent and State DOE Assessment Chief Officer. Soon after, my child's IEP included the following listed in the IEP note section: Mother reserves the right to opt child out of standardize testing and test preparation.  My child did not take the state high stakes standardized test. My special needs child's education and mental health was worth it. Advocate for your child.

Document prepared by:
Merry Juerling
Parent Power Indianapolis
Education Community Action Team
United Opt Out National Member

How to Opt Out verbiage in federal law, IDEA Part 300, D, 300.320, a, 6, ii, A and B:

About Notice of Procedural Safeguards in federal law, IDEA:

Research your state's laws concerning special education assessments.

Check out your state's Department of Education website and search Notice of Procedural Safeguards

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