The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was originally passed in 1965 as part of the War on Poverty with the intention of providing the schools with large numbers of the neediest students with additional funding. These funds are known as Title I funding.
In 1994, those funds were tied to annual standardized testing for students in schools receiving Title I funding. And since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, annual testing in reading and math has become a fixture of the entire American public school system. Annual testing in all public schools will continue under the most recent reauthorization of ESEA, the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.
Families wishing to opt their children out (aka have them ‘refuse’) this annual testing are told that their schools’ Title I funding is at risk because schools that do not have 95% participation on the state tests may have that funding withheld by the federal or state government.
Here’s the facts:
- USED rarely withholds Title I funding for any reason. And, to the best of our knowledge, USED has NEVER withheld Title I program funds for reasons related to annual testing and accountability policy, including low participation. Program funds are the Title I funds that actually go to districts and schools.
- USED has withheld Title I administrative funds in a few rare cases for reasons of assessments/accountability, but when administrative funds are withheld, there is no net loss of money for the state. Administrative funds are for use by a state to cover the costs of administering Title I programs. When they’re withheld, the state must give the money to local educational agencies for programs, not use them for administrative costs. (See one example case here.)
- On May 30, 2015, Illinois State Superintendent Tony Smith testified at an Illinois Senate Education Committee’s subject-matter hearing that if schools and districts make a good faith effort to administer state-mandated annual testing, the IL State Board of Education will NOT withhold funding from districts because of low participation rates due to opt out.
- Last year more than 600,000 students opted out of state tests around the country, including 20% of all students in NYS, and 100,000 students in New Jersey and Colorado. Here in Illinois, more than 40,000 students opted out, including 10% of all CPS students eligible for the test. No state, district or school lost a single penny—despite threats throughout last year’s testing season. In fact, as mentioned above, no state or local educational agency has lost any funding for participation rates ever. And states have had participation below 95% in the past (particularly in demographic subgroups), even before the era of mass opt out campaigns.
- Last year the IL State Board of Education (ISBE) opted out the entire state from science testing. States must administer science testing by grade-span (i.e. once in 3-5th, once in 6-8th, once in high school). There was a 0% participation rate. No funding was lost. The US Department of Education (USED)’s response was described by the Chicago Tribune as a ‘crackdown‘. In fact, the ‘crackdown’ was a stern letter, informing the state that they needed to administer a science test the next year.
- There simply is no federal or state law that requires financial or other penalties for schools or districts if parents opt out or refuse the test. Restriction of funding to a state or district is a general mechanism that the USED has, with which it can enforce any provision of federal education law in order to impose sanctions for serious, willful violations by state and district officials. Students and parents refusing testing, however, is not an instance of such a violation.