What an SOL Test Opt Out Means For You and Your School

This post explains student opt out options for standardized testing and the impact it has on the student, teacher, school, and district.

While some of us here in Virginia are ready to release for summer, many of us are still in the midst of SOL testing, remediation, and retakes.  Those scores have become more and more important over the last several years as our school accreditation and teacher evaluations are tied to passing SOL scores.  So what happens to those scores when one (or more) of your students "opt out?"

Let's start at the beginning and see what the Commonwealth of Virginia requires and how the 'opt out' option is provided for.
The Code of Virginia 8VAC20-131-30 states that:
"In kindergarten through eighth grade, where the administration of Virginia assessment program tests are required by the Board of Education, each student shall be expected to take the tests."
Virginia law does not provide for students to 'opt out' of the SOL tests.  But it does allow parents to refuse participation in SOL testing for their children.

What happens when a parent refuses SOL testing for their child?

Virginia Board of Education regulations state that the following procedures should be followed within school divisions when parents refuse participation:
  • The parents should be informed that their student’s score report will reflect a score of “0” for any test that is refused.
  • The school is strongly encouraged to request a written statement from parents indicating the specific test(s) the parents refuse to have their student complete. The document should be maintained in the student’s file as a record of the decision.
  • To account for the student, a test record for the refused test(s) is to be submitted for scoring with a Testing Status 51 coded to indicate the parent refusal.

What does this mean at the building level?

  • Parents do not have to fill out school forms to refuse testing for their children (although some school divisions are requiring that) however, they should send a written request for the refusal.
  • Parents can send in their request at any time before the test, even as late as the day of the test.  Advance notification is not required.
  • Parents can refuse one, some, or all tests.

What does the zero score mean for the school?

Typically, the student's zero score has been averaged in with all the other scores which could significantly effect an overall percentage, particularly in struggling schools.  However, a bill (SB427) just passed the General Assembly this year which allows for up to 5% of a school's testing student's to 'opt out' and their zero scores will not be included.  Any testing refusals over 5% would be included in the school average in order to meet federal guidelines requiring 95% of students are tested.
"The Board of Education shall not include in its calculation of the passage rate of a Standards of Learning assessment for the purposes of state accountability any student whose parent has decided to not have his child take such Standards of Learning assessment, unless such exclusions would result in the school's not meeting any required state or federal participation rate."

What does the zero score mean for the student?

Actually, nothing.

  • SOL scores can only be used as one of multiple criteria in the decision to retain a student.  Retention cannot be based on SOL scores alone.
  • SOL scores can not be used as part of a student's report card grade. 
  • Lack of SOL scores cannot prevent a student from participating in gifted programs, specialty centers, etc.  Also, opting out of an SOL can not prevent a student from taking the next course in that subject.
  • Students can not be required to attend summer school or weekend remediation classes solely based on failing a SOL test in science or history/social science.
  • Students can not be prevented from participating in "SOL celebration" parties because they did not take the test.
Unfortunately, many schools are telling parents otherwise and parents are taking their fight to the Virginia Board of Education.  Beware if your school is attempting to retain a student, require a remediation class instead of an elective, or refuse admission into a special program because a student refused testing.

Please note:  This changes when students reach middle and high school. Students are required to pass certain SOLs in order to graduate. For advanced students, this begins in middle school when they may take several high school credit courses.  Opting out of a high school level course that is required for graduation could result in student not receiving a diploma! 
Additionally, in middle and high school, SOL scores can be used as a part of a student's grade. However, a student's grade cannot be negatively affected if a secondary student opts out or takes an alternative assessment.  

Why do parents choose to refuse testing?

Some parents are in disagreement with the high stakes accreditation and teacher evaluation that is tied to test scores.  They feel this has led to a "teach to the test" mentality and that authentic teaching and teacher autonomy has been compromised. They feel their voices will be more readily heard when state scores are artificially deflated through refusal.  A kind of social protest to exact change.  
Some parents refuse testing because of the more direct impact of stress and worry on their children.  Some children have intense anxiety surrounding tests, especially high stakes tests.
Along those same lines, parents may opt out their special education student.  All students take the grade level tests and when the student is working far below grade level as a result of a disability, parents may refuse testing to prevent the student from taking an inappropriate assessment.
Whatever the reason, it is within a parent's right to refuse testing and the school is required to honor that request.  Please be careful about the information you share with parents concerning the consequences of opting out.  Be sure that you are sharing correct information.  Be informed!

If you have any questions concerning SOL test refusal, please feel free to contact me by email or message me on Facebook.  I will be glad to answer or point you to the right document, agency, or person to help you.


  1. Such great information and much I didn't know. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for such a thorough post! My only extra question is whether the new bill is effective this year or not.

    1. I am getting mixed messages on that one. I am following up with the VDOE tomorrow to try to get clarification.

    2. Legislation does not become enacted until July 1st. Most school systems are done with by June 30th and the summer testing session typically starts on or around July. Tests from the summer session count towards the 16-17 SY, not the 15-16 SY (this year). So - short answer - the Bill impacts next year's scores.

    3. But that is not the message I am receiving from VDOE.

  3. There is also the option for a student to be excused from testing for medical issues. I am not sure what the guidelines are for that, but one of my children did not take SOLs last year due to post concussion issues. She is back to testing this year.

  4. One of my colleagues says that a teacher can lose his/her license by recommending (to a parent) that a child opt-out. Do you know if there's any validity to that?

    1. No, you can not lose your license. I suppose it could be seen as a breach of contract because the assessments are required and a teacher suggesting a test refusal seems counterintuitive.
      Personally I am a proponent of opt out and have refused testing for my own children, but I would never suggest it to a parent of one of my students.

  5. My question would be- why, in the bill, does the school get a code for refusal but not the student? It really tells the parent that the child is not considered. Who wants a zero after the importance has been stressed all year?? Need a code for the student.

    1. That code appears on the student's SOL report. The report shows the zero score and the code that indicates the zero is a result of a parent refusal.

    2. Good to know! Thanks. I opted out this year and the school hammered the fact that we would see all zeros- no mention of anything else. We'll see when it comes.

  6. I don't understand how passing a certain number of these is required for a student to graduate with a diploma. If the student hasn't passed enough, they basically receive a certificate saying they attended high school instead of an actual diploma. This SOL madness must end. Teachers must force a ton of info very fast at these kids and are stuck teaching specifically for these tests. Kids can't learn anymore, its mainly memorization.

  7. This is good information and a lot to consider.. what happens to my child when all the other students study and prepare for these tests for months? What is the criteria for the curiculum for students who are opting out?

  8. This is good information and a lot to consider.. what happens to my child when all the other students study and prepare for these tests for months? What is the criteria for the curiculum for students who are opting out?

    1. Our curriculum is based on the Virginia standards of learning. The tests are based on the standards. Any instruction during the school year that is preparing students for this test is actually meeting the standards of learning the teachers are required to teach. Students who opt out of the test cannot opt out of learning the standards. They will continue to learn the standards along with everyone else. They just won't take the SOL test.

  9. There are also alternative assessments that high school students may take to earn the verified credit for graduation. Go to www.doe.Virginia.gov and search for alternate assessments. There is a huge list of options.