Fact Sheet on Opting Out of MCAS Testing


What is “opting out”?
It means refusing to take a standardized test such as MCAS.

Why should I opt my student out?
To protect your child: For many students, the Big Test can be very stressful.

To improve education for all students: Opting out is an effective way to protest the overuse and misuse of standardized tests, which forces schools to focus on the demands of the tests instead of the needs of students. Test obsession eats up classroom time, narrows curriculum, destroys children’s love of learning, and fuels the school-to-prison pipeline.

Seattle teacher activist Jesse Hagopian gives another reason: “We know that high-stakes standardized tests, rather than reducing the opportunity gap, have been used to rank, sort, label, and punish students of color.  … The outcomes [show] that test score achievement gaps between African American and white students have only increased, not decreased. If the point of the testing is to highlight inequality and fix it, so far it has only increased inequality.”

The opt-out movement has led to changes in state and local testing policies in other states. It can work here, too.

Is opting out illegal?
No. State law says the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education must give tests to all students. But the law does not say every student must take those tests and it does not provide for any penalties to students who refuse, or their parents. Commissioner Mitchell Chester said publicly, “I haven’t used the word ‘illegal’ [about students opting out].” 

What will my child do while the tests are administered?
State officials have told schools that if a student refuses the test, they should be allowed to read or do homework.

Will opting out affect my child’s academic standing?
Passing the state high school tests is a requirement for a high school diploma. But there is no state penalty for students who opt out in grades 3 – 8. Some schools use the scores in choosing students for advanced work, but most do not. Check whether your school does. Email lesstestingmorelearning@gmail.com if you have questions.

Will opting out cause my student’s school to lose federal or state funding?
No. Parents have been told this, but it has never happened and there is no reason to think it will. The federal government has never required financial penalties. New York State has had at least 20% of its students opting out for the past two years, and despite some federal bluster, no New York school lost any money. Nor have Massachusetts officials ever indicated they would cut district or school funding.

Will my school be hurt in other ways?
That’s unlikely. Under current law, a school’s accountability “level” can be reduced if the test participation rate drops below 95 percent. In reality, the serious sanctions for schools and educators that stem from being named a Level 4 or 5 school are driven by low test scores — not by low participation rates.

In fact, school leaders should boast about high opt-out levels. Parents who opt their children out of the flawed state test are clearly engaged in their children’s schooling, and parent involvement is a vital part of quality education.

How can I opt out my child?
Send the principal a letter saying you do not want your child to take the state test. For example:

Dear —, I have asked my child, [name], not to take part in the [name the exam] this year. Please arrange for [him or her] to have a productive educational experience during the testing period.”

Last year, many parents’ opt-out letters were honored, but just in case, you may also want to send your child to school with a note to read to the test proctor, something like this: “My parent told me not to take this test.” Or print that message on a sticker your child can wear on clothing. There’s a model sticker here.

A 2016 memo from Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester says, “We ask principals and test proctors to handle refusals with sensitivity. Students should not be pressured to take the test, nor should they be punished for not taking the test.” The memo is at http://bit.ly/refusethetest.

Although Chester did not repeat this line in his 2017 testing instructions, he has not rescinded the 2016 policy, which is common sense. It would be very unusual for a school official to berate or threaten a student for following a parent’s written instructions.

How can I make my action have real impact?
One parent quietly opting out will not stop high-stakes testing. It’s important to join with other parents and let people know what you are doing and why. Tell your newspaper, parent organizations, school committee, and legislators. Use parent email networks.

[Updated March 24, 2017]

Click here for a downloadable PDF version of this fact sheet.

Citizensforpublicschools.org links to more materials about opting out and the Less Testing, More Learning campaign. Please keep us informed of what you are doing. Email lesstestingmorelearning@gmail.com. We will not release any information without your direct permission.

For a model opt-out letter sent by Ricardo Rosa, click here. And for another approach, click here.

If you decide to opt your student out of the tests, please let us know. Email lesstestingmorelearning@gmail.com. We will not use your name or any other identifying information without your permission.

Here are more ways you can take part in the effort to stop high-stakes testing:


* Click here for a PDF of the Opt Out Fact Sheet.