Incentives and Bribes for Not Opting Out

By: Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – As the national opt-out movement gains momentum, school districts are getting nervous about kids not showing up for the intensive PARCC tests.

NOLA reported this week that in Alexandria, Louisiana, kids are being offered incentives to take the test such as being excused from the school dress code for the rest of the year.  Morris Hills New Jersey school district planned, then abandoned, an incentive plan that would reward students with bonus points and a chance to win American Express gift cards for participating in the test.  A Newton, New Jersey high school offered students the chance to skip some final exams just for taking the PARCC test. Twitchy has examples of incentives of all kinds for kids to take the test – from iPad minis to recess.

Incentivizing and rewarding kids to do well on tests has been around as long as tests have been around, but this time it’s taking on a different meaning.  In Louisiana, at least, there are very real penalties for not taking the test.  For every child that doesn’t take the test, the school receives a zero in the formula that calculates the school performance score.  When the annual school letter grades come out, a school could be labeled with a low letter grade just because a number parents opted their kids out of the test, even though otherwise it may be an excellent school.

In Calcasieu Parish nearly 800 students are opting out; that’s an usually high number – a survey of opt-outs throughout the state are in double digits by parish.  But 800 students is about 6% of the student body in Calcasieu Parish and will definitely affect school scores and teacher evaluations.

While the issue of assigning a zero for these kids has been brought to the state BESE Board, they have deferred action on the matter:

State schools Superintendent John White said the opt-outs would clearly have an impact on Moss Bluff schools. But he defended his recommendation to wait on setting any policy changes for score and teacher scores, saying, “We don’t govern two schools — we govern 1,400.” Moreover, he said any decision to opt-out was “hypothetical” until testing day.

And so, the issue of opt-out looms like a threat over the heads of districts and schools where a large number of parents don’t want to subject their kids to extensive, grueling testing over Common Core standards that have been poorly implemented from Day One.  (At the very least, CCSS should have been phased in from elementary grades over a number of years – dumping CCSS math on a high-school sophomore and then subjecting them to PARCC is ridiculous).

As to the issue of incentives, I say it’s nothing new.  Does it cross the line to bribery?  Maybe.  But to hold the threat of heavy penalty over a school for parental opt-out decision (something a school really has no control over), is just wrong.


Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.