Three Questions for Brad Buck on Assessment Opt Outs

Dr. Brad Buck

Dr. Brad Buck

Dr. Brad Buck, the director of the Iowa Department of Education, sent a member of Iowa RestorEd a public statement related addressing parents who wish to opt their students out of assessments.

He said, “It is a requirement of Iowa law that students participate in the statewide assessments for accountability purposes.  Schools are to take reasonable steps to ensure student participation.  There is no provision of law allowing students to ‘opt out’ of the assessment system.”

This response does not surprise me at all.  I certainly didn’t think the Iowa Department of Education would encourage parents to opt out or provide guidance on how to so.  That would run counter to the ingrained progressive culture that persists in the Department.

I’m also sure that Dr. Buck made this statement after consulting various members of his staff including the Department’s legal counsel.  The problem is this – his statement is an interpretation of Iowa’s code, not the law itself.

This statement raises three questions for me.

The first is this, where does Iowa law state that parents and students can’t opt-out of assessments?

The Department has the obligation to state which law prevents Iowa students from opting out of assessments.  Dr. Buck is right there is no provision of law that allows students to opt out of assessments.  There is also no provision of law that states that they can’t.  There is no law mandating individual students to take assessments.  There is no penalty under Iowa law for students (and parents) who opt-out.

The law is silent.  Now No Child Left Behind mandates states and schools to administer assessments.  The law also states that schools must have at least a 95% participation rate.  Iowa Code subsection 256.7(21)(c) requires school districts, as accredited in Iowa, to annually report the progress of student achievement in their Annual Progress Report (APR) – school districts, not students.

So where the law is silent students may opt out?  Dr. Buck must state what language in the Iowa Code he is referring to.  So basically what Dr. Buck is saying is that unless the law specifically grants something we are not allowed to do it.  In order to be consistent you can’t just apply that principle to education policy.  I’m pretty confident he doesn’t believe that so why is this position ok for assessment opt-outs?

If the Department wants to prevent student/parental opt-outs they need to codify it.  One reason is the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment and U.S. Supreme Court precedents regarding parental rights.  Passing a law such as that would cause an inherent legal conflict.

His statement also raises a second question: What is considered “reasonable” in regards to steps that schools take to ensure their students take assessments? 

If I were a school principal or superintendent I’d want some clarification here.  Frankly this opens school districts up to potential litigation.  How exactly does one force a student, particularly when a parent has expressly stated they are not giving their consent, to take an assessment?

A third question that I have to ask is a political one.  The Iowa Department of Education is not an island unto itself.  They are part of the executive branch and Dr. Buck serves at the pleasure of the Governor.  Where does Governor Branstad stand on this issue?  Does the law have to specifically state an opt-out provision in order for a student to opt out (or a parent to opt their student out) when it does not state that they can’t?  If he believes that – does he apply this philosophy more broadly to other matters of law?  To be fair this is a question that the Governor’s office will have to address, but I have to believe Dr. Buck has been consulting with them.

Iowa’s parents have a right to know the answers.

Update: For more information about assessments in Iowa, opting out and to download our opt out form go here.

About Shane Vander Hart

Shane Vander Hart founded Iowans for Local Control in 2012 which later merged with Iowa RestorEd. Shane also is the founder and editor-in-chief of Caffeinated Thoughts and the founder and president of 4:15 Communications, LLC, a social media & communications consulting/management firm.  You can connect with Shane on Facebook or follow him on Twitter and Google +.

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