State Education Officials Fear Federal Withholding of Funds Due to Low Common Core Test Participation

Stop Common Core - AP Photo
AP Photo/Frank Espich

As parents have continued to opt their children out of the testing aligned with the Common Core standards by the thousands in some states, in others, the testing has been halted entirely due to numerous technological glitches, leaving some state education officials worried their federal funding could be at stake as a result of low participation rates in the mandated tests.

Thousands of parents across the country are opting their children out of the tests aligned with the Common Core standards. For some school districts, the main problem is that the online tests cannot be administered at all to anyone due to system failures.

As Review Journal reported, the federally funded Smarter Balanced Common Core online testing was halted for grades three to five throughout Nevada, Montana, and North Dakota this past week due to system failure related to the number of students taking the test.

“I am extremely disappointed in our test vendor’s inability to deliver as promised and we are examining all avenues to hold the company accountable,” Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction Dale Erquiaga said in a statement. “Our districts and schools were eager to demonstrate our readiness to move to computer-based assessments and this is an unacceptable setback.”

New Hampshire-based Measured Progress, the vendor that administers the test, reportedly contacted Department of Education officials letting them know the Smarter Balanced test could not be administered because of the need to expand server capacity.

According to The Wall Street Journal, in light of the problems, the Montana Office of Public Instruction offered waivers to the mandatory test this year.

Montana State Superintendent Denise Juneau said she was not certain, however, whether schools that did not comply with the mandatory testing could lose federal funding.

“We really want to make sure the business of schools gets done,” she said.

Michigan, Wisconsin, and Missouri have also endured problems with their Common Core-aligned tests this year.

Judith Rubenstein of Measured Progress said its increased server capacity was not sufficient to support the number of students taking the tests.

“We’re working around the clock to deliver the Smarter Balanced assessments,” she said.

The fear expressed by state education departments of the U.S. Department of Education’s (USED) withholding of funds due to failure to deliver high participation rates in the mandatory testing underscores the close-knit relationship between USED and state education departments and boards of education–which typically do its bidding.

Conservative grassroots groups have been warning state legislatures and governors of the dangers of relying on funding from the federal government for education programs that come with strings attached. The federal government, they say, has no role in education, an area the Constitution reserves to the states and localities. Still, both House and Senate Republicans are supporting reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that will maintain a strong federal presence in education.

As the Associated Press reports, the U.S. Department of Education said in a statement, “The department has not had to withhold money–yet–over this requirement because states have either complied or have appropriately addressed this with schools or districts that assessed less than 95 percent of students.”

North Dakota said it is prepared for any consequences, with some officials considering ordering a paper version of the test. School districts that are unable to complete the testing are reportedly documenting their attempts to be used in a “plea for leniency” to the federal government.

“I think the Department of (Education) will look at the effort we give in,” said North Dakota State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler. “Did they give up the second week of April or was it a substantial effort?”


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