Opting Out of Standardized Tests


no more tests

photo by timlewisnm

We’ve all been there, sitting quietly in a room filling out bubble after bubble with our #2 pencils, but is that a thing of the past? My oldest will have to take her first round of standardized tests next year so it’s been on my mind lately. As homeschoolers these tests are one of the benchmarks used by the districts to let them know how homeschooled kids are progressing in relation to the schooled kids. This may be changing though as more and more parents choose to opt out their children out of standardized testing.


No Child Left Behind linked a school’s funding to the students standardized test scores creating a great deal of pressure to have ever increasing test scores. This pressure has led to  corruption in standardized test scoring by districts and even the testing companies themselves. So on both ends there is reason to change a child’s answers. For the districts it’s to increase the performance of their students and on the testing company side it’s so that they get a nice bell curve and don’t have too many over or under performers. The long and short of it is that you can’t be 100% sure anymore that the score your child is getting is the score they deserve, depending on the test this can have devastating results.

Michele Grey a Pennsylvania mother of two decided to opt her children out of the state standardized tests this year citing a little know religious exemption. She did so due to the stress and anxiety associated with standardized testing and the pressure that it placed on her children. Her traditionally schooled children were homeschooled during the two weeks that the testing was going on. This case has brought up much discussion in my homeschooling community about standardized testing and whether or not to opt our children out.

Opting out in Pa is simple. The following comes directly from the 2010-2011 PSSA Handbook and outlines the process that must be followed to opt your child out of the PSSAs.

Student had a parental request for exclusion from the assessment: Section 4.4 of Chapter 4 provides for the right of any parents or guardians to excuse their child from the state assessment if, upon inspection of the testing materials, they find the assessment to be in conflict with their religious beliefs. This is the only basis fora parent or guardian to excuse his or her child from the statewide assessments.

  • Two weeks prior to each testing window, each assessment must be made available for review by parents and guardians. The assessment must be reviewed on school district property and district personnel must be present at all times. Districts must provide a convenient time for the review. This may include an evening review time, if requested. Proper security and confidentiality of the assessment must be maintained at all times throughout the review process. District personnel may remove the prompt seals from one copy of a writing booklet to facilitate a review of the writing assessment.
  • Parents and guardians must sign a locally prepared statement concerning the requirements of assessment security and confidentiality. A copy of this should be locally maintained. (It is not necessary to send this statement to PDE or DRC.) Parents and guardians may not photocopy, write down, or in any other manner record any portion of the assessments, including directions.
  • After reviewing the test, parents and guardians must provide a written request addressed to the Superintendent or Chief Academic Officer to excuse their child based upon religious conflict. The parentsand guardians do not have to defend their religious beliefs, nor do they have to identify specific test content to which they object. Simply stating that they are requesting exclusion based on religious grounds is sufficient.

If the student is excused from the state assessment due to parental or guardian request, school personnel must provide an alternative learning environment for the student during the assessment and complete the “Non-Assessed Students” grid on the student’s answer booklet by marking “Student had a parental request for exclusion from the assessment.” Please be aware that students who do not participate in the assessment due to parental request will negatively affect the school’s participation rate and can potentially have a negative impact on the school’s AYP status.

The process is simple and can be applied to any student, homeschooled or traditionally schooled, in the state of Pennsylvania. The last line indicates that any student who opts out will negatively affect the schools participation rate and negatively affect the schools scores so I suspect the districts will not make it as simple as it appears on paper.

I personally like the idea of using the standardized tests as a benchmark for their learning but being homeschooled/unschooled their point of view and knowledge of the world is different from their schooled peers creating situations like the one described over at Family on Bikes where her kids (who had traveled extensively and had amazing real world knowledge) didn’t know what a binder was. This didn’t make them less intelligent it just meant that their point of reference was different making things like standardized tests extremely difficult.

With the corruption, differing cultural references and the ability to opt out we have a great deal to think about when it comes to standardized testing. What are your thoughts on standardized testing? Have you opted your children out? Can you?

Please note this is just informational and is not legal advice. Please check the homeschooling and educational rules and laws in your state.


Jennifer Pohlhaus is a busy working mother of two who, along with her husband, has chosen to unschool her children. She currently blogs about her experience with the challenges and fun of unschooling along with her love of crafting and cooking at HarmonicMama.com.