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Opting Out of Testing

Reviewed January 2022

The Iowa Department of Education has received requests from parents and others that students be “opted out” of statewide assessments, district-wide assessments, and other assessments of student performance. The law provides for no “opt out.”

  1. The law requires that all Iowa students be assessed.
    Under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, Pub. L. No. 114-95 (hereinafter ESSA) each State shall demonstrate that it has a statewide accountability plan that takes into account the achievement of “all public elementary school and secondary school students.” ESSA, § 1111(b)(2)(A)(i), (b)(2)(C)(i), (ix) (emphasis added). The United States Department of Education has adopted rules implementing these statutory provisions. See, e.g., 34 C.F.R. §§ 200.2(b)(1), 200.6

    Similarly Iowa statute requires the State Board of Education to adopt rules regarding assessment of and reporting of student achievement. Iowa Code § 256.7(21). Pursuant to that statutory authority, the State Board promulgated a rule requiring “assessment of student progress for all students.” Iowa Admin. Code r. 281—12.8(1)(f) (emphasis added).

    The requirement in federal and state law to report participation rates on statewide assessments does not change the obligation imposed by the plain language of state and federal law to assess all children.

    The Iowa Code and implementing administrative rules also require all students be assessed in multiple other contexts. See, e.g., Iowa Code § 279.68 (early literacy statute); Iowa Admin. Code ch. 281—62.
  2. The law contains no provision for parents to opt children out of assessments.
    None of the statutes, regulations, and rules in state or federal law give the parents the authority to “opt” their children out of accountability assessments. They use the term “all”, and “all” as a statutory term “usually does not admit of an exception, addition or exclusion.” Consolidated Freightways Corp. v. Nicholas, 258 Iowa 115, 137 N.W.2d 900 (1965). The statutory scheme at issue conforms to this longstanding general rule.

    ESSA contains limited provisions that allow children to participate in different assessment activities, but those are narrowly drawn and do not amount to a parental “opt out.” See, e.g., 34 C.F.R. § 200.6. ESSA’s parental involvement provisions also do not contain a provision allowing for “opting out.” ESSA § 1118. Likewise, Iowa education law contains references to unilateral parent “opt outs,” which are conspicuously absent from the statutes on assessment. See, e.g., Iowa Code §§ 256.11(6)(a) (physical education, physical activity, or CPR course, if conflicts with religious belief); 279.50(5) (human growth and development instruction). In the absence of such a specific authorization of parents to opt children out of assessments, the Department lacks the authority to approve of granting such requests.
  3. Local school districts determine the consequences for withholding children from testing.
    Although the law requires all children to be assessed, the law also does not specify consequences for parents who withhold their children from assessment. In the absence of specific consequences spelled out in statute, the general rule of local control is followed: consequences for participating or not participating in required assessments are determined at the local level. The Department will not interfere in those local determinations if those are reasonable.


Printed from the Iowa Department of Education website on September 27, 2022 at 7:07am.