The high opt-out rate among juniors means Washington state as a whole fell short of the 95 percent participation rate required under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
High-school juniors in Seattle were the ones who made headlines this spring for protesting the state’s new math and reading exams, but preliminary state figures show the revolt was deeper and more widespread than just one school district.
Seattle, in fact, didn’t even make the top 10 in the percentage of 11th-graders who declined to take the new exams, known as Smarter Balanced.
In Seattle, the preliminary results show, almost half the juniors this spring skipped the tests, which they did not have to pass to graduate.
In the Issaquah School District, the rate was 82 percent — the highest in King County, followed by Enumclaw, at 78 percent, and Snoqualmie Valley at 75.
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On Bainbridge Island, the opt-out rate was about 90 percent, the highest in the Seattle area.
Statewide, at least 27 percent of juniors were confirmed refusals, a number the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction said could grow to roughly 50 percent when it releases official figures and scores next month.
The story was very different for grades 3-8. Less than 5 percent of students in those grades opted out of the exams, meeting the 95 percent participation requirement — at least for those grades — under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Still, the high refusal rate among juniors means the state as a whole fell short.
Washington could lose some federal money as a result, the superintendent’s office said.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has suggested that might happen in other states, such as New York, which have had increases in their opt-out rates this year, too.
But for a number of reasons — including a long-overdue rewrite of the No Child law that’s being debated in Congress — the consequences, if any, remain uncertain.
The rise in the refusal rate — which has been very low in the past — can be tied to a number of factors.
In particular, the 11th-grade tests are not required for graduation and competed with other high-stakes tests that juniors take, including the ACT and SAT college-entrance exams, and Advanced Placement tests. Their class had to pass the old state tests, which they first took as sophomores, in order to graduate.
There also has been controversy over the Smarter Balanced exams, which are tied to the Common Core standards that many states, including Washington, are just starting to use.
And there is growing concern among some parents that the number of tests students now take is excessive. Between third and 11th grade, Washington students take about 17 state tests in reading, math and science. Many districts require their own tests, too.
That was part of a 2013 protest in Seattle, when teachers at several schools gained national attention for boycotting a district-required exam.
Some districts had high participation on state tests this year, including Bellevue, Renton, Tacoma and Spokane.
But this year, the refusal rate in the state as a whole appears to be the highest it has ever been.
Individual districts and schools in Washington have sometimes missed the required 95 percent participation, but not by much, said state Deputy Superintendent Gil Mendoza.
“Typically it’s been one or two percentage points and it’s for a lot of different reasons,” Mendoza said.
But Washington as a whole has never missed the requirement.
“Prior to the Smarter Balanced … I’m not aware of any state not meeting the 95-percent participation rate as a state,” Mendoza said.
He chalked up the uptick in refusals to confusion over the new tests.
“Everybody’s afraid of the unknown, so there’s been some lashing out against it,” Mendoza said.
The U.S. Department of Education has never withheld money from states failing to meet that requirement because states have issued sanctions against schools and districts with low participation rates.
Nearly all 10th-graders, who must pass the new reading test to graduate, took that exam.
So did most students in grades 3-8, although there were significant opt-out rates in some school districts — 20 percent overall on Bainbridge Island (including 11th-graders), for example, and nearly 14 percent in Monroe Public Schools.
For juniors, the only incentive to take the test was the chance to skip a placement exam for Washington state colleges and universities if they scored high enough.
That wasn’t enough to sell Lauren Longo, 17, who will be a senior at Issaquah High School next year, and aims to attend a college in California when she graduates.
She skipped the state test so she could focus on the SAT and ACT, and Advanced Placement tests in calculus, English and Spanish.
“My junior year was probably the most stressful,” Longo said. “I saw no benefit to taking it and I thought it might cause a little more stress in my schedule.”
She said she knows students who plan to attend college in Washington who saw the advantage of taking the state test instead of a placement exam later.
The Issaquah district’s spokeswoman said many parents felt like there wasn’t enough incentive to take the test.
“We absolutely encouraged kids to take the test,” said L. Michelle. “But for our community, they just didn’t see the benefit of it.”
At some schools in Seattle, nearly all juniors refused to take the tests — including Nathan Hale, Ballard and Garfield high schools.
Some juniors chose to take it so their schools’ overall scores wouldn’t be hurt. Students who don’t take the test receive a score of zero.
“Doing something was better than a zero on the school report, ” said 17-year-old Senay Emmanuel, who attends Raisbeck Aviation High School in Tukwila and said he did his best on the exam.