Thiesfeldt Wants DPI to Clarify Opt-Out for Badger Exam

The chairman of the state Assembly Education Committee has asked state superintendent Tony Evers to tell all Wisconsin school districts that any student who wants to opt out of taking a state standardized test known as the “Badger Exam” can do so.

State Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R-Fond du Lac) made the request in a letter. He said there is confusion over the state law that governs when a student can choose not to take the test, which is currently being given in most public school districts to students in grades 3-8.

Under state law, testing is required for students in grades 4, 8, 9, 10 and 11. Federal law also requires testing of students in grades 3, 5, 6 and 7 in reading, language arts and math.

Wisconsin law covering when a student can opt out refers only to grades where testing is required by the state. The Department of Public Instruction says on its website that it’s up to schools to decide whether to let students opt out from being tested in the other grades.

That’s how the law has worked since statewide testing began in 2004, said DPI spokesman John Johnson.

Rep. Thiesfeldt, in his letter to Evers, said that interpretation goes against the intent of the law. He said some districts are denying parents’ requests to keep their children from taking the test in the grades not specifically mentioned in the law.

“It is imperative that you take action on this immediately since schools are currently engaged in taking the exam,” Thiesfeldt said in the letter.

The DPI and Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, downplayed Thiesfeldt’s sense of urgency.

Interviewed by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sen. Olsen said, “Anybody can opt out of any test. No kid is forced to take a test in the state of Wisconsin.”

If school officials insisted students had to take a test they wanted to opt out of, they could simply write their names at the top and not fill in any answers, he said.

“How do you force a kid to take a test? Give me a break,” Olsen said.

This is the first year of the Badger Exam in Wisconsin, but it’s likely to be the last. The test, which is aligned with Common Core academic standards, was beset with problems leading to delays in its administration.

Amid concerns about the test, the state Senate passed a bill that would stop the DPI from reporting the scores on school report cards in the fall and prohibit schools from using the student test results in this year’s educator effectiveness evaluations.

And Gov. Scott Walker, as part of his 2015-17 state budget plan, has proposed doing away with the test after this year, something the Republican-controlled Legislature appears ready to do.