Families are allowed to have their child opt out of taking the PSSAs or Keystones for religious or medical reasons.

But few seem to do so.

Several York County school officials said they have zero students opting out of the tests -- Pennsylvania System of School Assessment for elementary and middle schools and Keystones for high school.

The mother of a Pittsburgh area elementary school student drew attention recently with an op-ed piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in which she criticized the tests as stressful and said they "warp the educational environment." She is holding her 9-year-old out of the tests.

Statewide, only 260 out of 930,000 students in the 2011-12 school year opted out of standardized tests required under No Child Left Behind, according to the Department of Education.

Northern York has had a handful in recent years, according to Assistant Superintendent Jason Beals. Parents have informed the district they do not want their child taking the tests for religious reasons, and Northern is legally obligated to comply.

"We're not permitted to ask why," Beals said.

Extreme instances of hospitalization could also be a reason to skip the exams, Beals said, but since the tests are taken over a several-week period, it's a rarely used reason.

Tests expected: At this point in standardized testing, parents are coming to expect their child will take lots of tests, school officials said.

"I think there are plenty of parents that question standardized testing," Beals said. "But it informs an awful lot of instruction and curricular decisions we make."


"I think our parents understand why our students are taking the PSSAs," added South Western Assistant Superintendent Jill Wenrich, where no children have opted out.

The Dover Area School District, which also hasn't had any opt-outs, is reviewing its policies to make sure it requires a written explanation from parents, as required by the state, said Sue Kanigsberg, director of curriculum and instruction. She noted that a family can't completely opt out of the Keystone exams for religious

reasons, as students would still have to complete a project.

Southern York School District Superintendent Thomas Hensley said his principals explain to parents the benefits of the testing, including the breakdown of skills that helps the school decide what students need to work on.

Whatever the state requires, Southern will do, he said, although he added he hopes the state Board of Education keeps in mind a proper balance of testing as it develops requirements.

-- Reach Andrew Shaw at ashaw@yorkdispatch.com