, Muskogee, OK

May 5, 2014

Exemptions belong to local boards

— Oklahoma’s Department of Education must allow additional standardized testing exemptions and must give more local control to determine who receives those exemptions.

The state DOE is reviewing its testing exemption policy.

But a recent tragedy highlights the reason for more local control and more flexibility in the exemption process.

The state DOE assessment coordinator recently denied a testing exemption to two Moyers Public Schools sixth-graders who were orphaned by a car crash that killed their parents.

The only federal exemptions allowed are for emergency medical issues and for first-time English language learners.

And the state DOE receives hundreds of requests for exemptions each year.

Combine those factors and you are going to get decisions that are clearly not in the best interest of the students.

The Moyers sixth-graders deserved compassion and understanding.

The children eventually were given the deserving exemption. But if that’s the kind of initial response you get from the state, then we definitely need local control of the exemptions.

The state board has the power now. And there is a good reason for that.

It would be possible for local superintendents to exempt poorer performing students from the test to artificially raise the overall grade of their students.

That’s because the test results help determine the state DOE’s intervention process of poor performing schools.

Maintaining full control of testing exemptions at the state level helps alleviate the potential conflict of interests at the local level.

But, given the remote possibility that local control would lead to abuse versus inhumane state decisions, we would rather take our chances with local control.