California testing opt-out rates appear highest among 11th graders

Christine Armario/AP

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As standardized testing comes to a close at most Southern California school districts, some officials tell KPCC that the yearly math and English tests are creating scheduling conflicts for 11th graders that have led some to skip the state-mandated tests.

“A common refrain of those who skipped out was that the state testing was too close to [Advanced Placement] testing, creating a conflict of priorities,” wrote Santa Monica High School Principal Eva Mayoral in an email.

Her school district is currently compiling this year's opt out numbers.

Burbank Unified tallied its opt outs at Burbank High School and found that the number skyrocketed from zero last year to 272 this year, according to Superintendent Matt Hill.

The big jump at the campus was due in part to a maverick 11th grader who convinced classmates that standardized tests rob students of time they could be using to prepare for Advanced Placement exams.

So is Burbank High’s 41 percent opt-out rate a trend?

It’s hard to say because most school districts haven’t tallied numbers yet. Last year the numbers were low – 2 percent across the state, according to the California Department of Education.

Long Beach Unified tallied 86 students who opted out of state exams last year, out of more than 40,000 students tested, with the two highest numbers at its Millikan and Wilson high school campuses. Santa Ana Unified counted 15 students opting out this year and last year, said Superintendent Rick Miller.

While California allows families to opt their student out of standardized tests officials also require, because of a federal mandate, that school districts test at least 95 percent of eligible students. And that means they’ll be keeping an eye on the numbers.

There are no clear penalties now for falling below that threshold because California and the federal government are switching from one set of testing accountability rules to another.

In the meantime, California's anti-testing movement has remained relatively calm as big waves of opt outs hit other states. In New York, more than 20 percent of students opted out of standardized tests.