A few months ago, when a Franklin mom learned that this year’s ISTEP exam was going to be longer and was changed within a month of testing, she said enough.
Dana Rhorer went to her daughter’s school and told officials she didn’t want the fourth-grader taking the ISTEP test. The principal tried to talk her into reconsidering, but she refused.
When testing started in March, her daughter and up to four other students in Franklin schools spent time reading, completing online classwork or working on individual projects while hundreds of other students took the ISTEP.
While the total number of children not taking the test — about 10 — is less than 5 percent of the students slated to take the test, this is a first for local schools. After testing time was extended to six or seven hours, parents across the state have been forming online groups that want to opt out their children from the exam. State law says students are supposed to take the test, but it is not against the law for parents to refuse.
The state said schools need to figure out what to do with students whose parents say no.
Franklin schools had the most students in the county refuse to take the exam, but officials allowed students to come to school as usual and work on other projects during the testing period. Greenwood and Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson schools also planned to allow students to stay in the building during testing, but none of their students refused to take the exam.
Clark-Pleasant schools took a different approach. Any third- or fourth-grade student who was in the school building during testing was given the exam, Clark-Pleasant director of curriculum Cameron Rains said. Anyone who did not want to take the ISTEP had the option to withdraw from Clark-Pleasant and be home-schooled, he said.
As a result, some parents may have reported their children as sick instead of going to school, but that was fewer than 10 students districtwide, he said.
So far, the state has not been keeping tabs on how many students refused to take the ISTEP in third and fourth grade, said Deb Brown-Nally, executive director of curriculum for Franklin Community schools.
This is the first year that parents refusing to let their children take the exam was an issue, Brown-Nally said.
“I don’t remember ever having a parent opt out,” Brown-Nally said. “If they did, it was very rare.”
Rhorer said she is surprised that more parents haven’t refused to let their children take the test, but some might not realize that refusing is an option.
“I know that I’m not alone. I just know that nobody wants to say anything because they’re afraid of retaliation,” Rhorer said. “It honestly baffles me that more parents aren’t jumping on this wagon with me.”
Her daughter is the only student in her class who isn’t taking the exam but is also less stressed than her classmates, Rhorer said. She added her daughter has told her about her classmates crying in class before and after the test starts because of concerns over the results.
After reading up on ISTEP, Rhorer noticed that there are other parents throughout the state who have refused to let their children take the test. As a result, Rhorer created a Facebook page to share more information on opting out.
Rhorer’s daughter is a straight-A student, so she has no issue with the test being difficult. But she does not feel like it is the best way to test third- and fourth-grade students, she said.
“I do believe there should be some kind of standard, but the way they’re going about it is wrong,” Rhorer said. “It’s not an accurate measure of a child’s abilities.”
Students refusing to take the ISTEP exam is a first for many local school districts. Even though there is not a way for families to opt out of their children taking the ISTEP test, parents can refuse to let their child take the assessment. Each school district handles refusals differently.
Franklin: 4 or 5 children refused
Clark-Pleasant: 0 official refusals (but fewer than 10 students were either withdrawn or stayed home from school on those days)
Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson: 0 refusals
Center Grove: 0 refusals
Greenwood: 0 refusals
Edinburgh: 0 refusals