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One out of every four 11th-grade students in Colorado opted out of their state’s standardized test, with geography and income levels serving as explanatory factors.

The central theme Approximately 25% of 11th-grade students in Colorado chose to forgo the state’s official science test each year from 2016 to 2019. To be more precise, between 23% and 27% of 11th-graders abstained from participating in the science exam during this period. These findings, detailed in our AERA Open publication, stem from a geographical analysis of state data, unveiling the extent to which students opted out of the test in those years.

Significance The decision to opt out of tests aligns with a recent nationwide educational movement in the United States. This movement gained prominence in 2015 and 2016 due to growing discontent with high-stakes testing, viewed negatively as a tool to evaluate both teacher performance and student learning. Many students and parents question the significance of standardized tests as an accurate measure of academic achievement.

Unlike the broader opt-out movement primarily led by parents who kept their children home on test days, Colorado presents a unique case. High school students actively participated in the opt-out movement, protesting against the use of standardized tests. Opt-out rates varied significantly among specific subgroups in Colorado. Generally, schools with a higher proportion of white students and more students on free and reduced lunch plans reported lower opt-out rates. Additionally, students at charter schools were less likely to opt out of the 11th-grade science exam, while schools with larger class sizes had higher opt-out rates.

Geography played a crucial role, with opt-out trends differing across the state. The movement was more pronounced in certain areas and among specific groups. Notably, economically disadvantaged students in rural and politically conservative communities were more likely to opt out compared to their counterparts in more liberal areas like Denver.

Our study also uncovered nuanced differences between rural schools in eastern Colorado and those along the I-70 corridor and the Western Slope. Charter schools, while generally reporting lower opt-out rates than public schools, exhibited higher rates in Denver and northern Colorado compared to the rest of the state.

The outcomes of our study unveil a complex narrative of standardized test participation in Colorado, highlighting the influence of demographics, school governance, and geography on students’ decisions.

What comes next Our analysis does not pinpoint the specific reasons behind students opting out of tests, nor does it clarify the extent to which youth played a leading role in the movement against 11th-grade science exams. To delve deeper into these aspects, we plan to conduct survey and qualitative research studies starting in the fall of 2023, aiming to understand how and why students in Colorado chose to opt out. Additionally, we intend to explore opt-out trends in other states.

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