Some South Carolina school districts honoring opt out requests for standardized testing

Confusion continues to persist about whether parents can opt their children out of statewide standardized testing as the state Department of Education this week left the issue up to individual school districts.

Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman told district superintendents during a teleconference Wednesday that schools have an obligation to administer the tests, but that they are allowed some flexibility in accommodating students whose parents have requested they not be tested. “Superintendent Spearman did say that while not obligated to provide alternative activities, districts can use their discretion to do what is best for the local community,” Dino Teppara, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said on Friday.

But that advice has left parents, who are part of a statewide movement to opt their children out of standardized testing, confused just days from when testing is scheduled to begin. Testing for English and math will be held Tuesday through Thursday.

Sarah Shad Johnson, who serves as the coordinator for Opt Out South Carolina, said Spearman’s guidance conflicts with a memo issued by her department on April 17 that cited state and federal laws, according to the memo, require all public school students in grades 3-8 to take standardized tests.

At the heart of the issue is whether parents have the right to refuse standardized testing for their children. Johnson said no memos from the state have been released reflecting Spearman’s allowance for discretion. And she said it’s unclear what the latest guidance really means.

“No one really knows what’s going on,” Johnson said.

Parents in some parts of the state reported Friday that school districts are still not accommodating their refusal of the tests. Locally, school districts have taken a measured approach.

John Emerson, the Charleston County School District’s attorney, said in a statement Friday that the school district does not have the authority to excuse students whose parents have declined the testing and that a “student’s failure to participate may have an adverse impact on the student, the school and the district.”

“While we strongly encourage these families to allow their student to take the test, in an effort to minimize the impact on the student, they will be permitted to engage in quiet study in another room during the testing,” Emerson said.

Pat Raynor, spokeswoman for Dorchester District 2, said that Superintendent Joseph Pye has also agreed to allow those children whose parents don’t want them tested to attend a supervised study hall during testing.

Chip Sturgis, spokesman for the Berkeley County School District, said Berkeley school officials will meet Monday to discuss the guidance from the state department of education.

Ladson parent Kristyna Gibson, who had been fighting with Dorchester 2 over opting out her children, said Pye called her Wednesday evening to tell her that her request would be honored.

“It’s nice that people in higher positions ... are listening to the parents,” Gibson said. “They’re realizing that parents need to be involved in education just as much as they are.”

Reach Amanda Kerr at 937-5546.