Delaware Senate to Decide on Opt-Out Bill

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3By Terry Rogers

The State House of Representatives has passed a bill that would allow parents to opt their children out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. The bill, which was introduced by State Representative John Kowalko, passed with a vote of 36 to 3.

Some school administrators are concerned that the bill will cause some schools to lose federal funding if too many of their students opt out of the state tests. In addition, if a large number of students that are top-performing opt out of the testing, the assessment could cause negative actions in a district that are unfounded. The bill has been sent to the Senate and, if passed, will be sent to Governor Jack Markell for signature.

“I would like to hear the arguments for and against the legislation prior to committing myself to a particular vote on the issue,” said Senator Gary Simpson. “Obviously, we need to have tough standards and viable tests if we are to achieve the kind of results we want from our educational system, but, at the same time, I believe we are testing too much and wasting valuable time, expense and effort on the various other tests we now require of our students.” Senator Simpson said that he believed the bill had a 50/50 chance of passing in the Senate.

The bill has yet to be voted on in the Senate Education Committee. Public hearings on the bill have sparked heated debate between Committee Chairman, Senator David Sokola of Newark and members of the public who were in attendance. Senator Sokola has proposed a resolution that would expand the responsibilities of the Department of Education in regard to studying tests. Governor Jack Markell has repeatedly called House Bill 50, the opt-out bill, a “bad bill” as the state could lose federal funding if too many students do not take the standardized tests.

Support for the passage of the bill, however, is growing among parents. Many parents believe assessments cause lost classroom time, while at the same time increasing stress on both students and teachers. Jennifer Heulings, who has two daughters who previously attended Milford School District but now attend private school, said that she would like to have the option to opt her daughters out of state testing.

“My children have been in private school for the 2014-2015 school year with no state testing required,” Ms. Heulings said. “It has been amazing. The kids aren’t tired and exhausted. My oldest, who despises tests, has been happier and no longer experiences test anxiety. They will be returning to public school next year and I am dreading the testing that will come with their return.”

Teachers, who will not speak out on record for or against the test, say that although they understand the need at the state level to be sure that students are achieving, there are better ways to do it than the Smarter Balanced Assessment. One former teacher said that some state standards were lowered after 2001 in order to meet national No Child Left Behind mandates and this has led to the testing process being less than effective.

“I think the state test could be used as a viable way to determine how students are progressing, but there need to be changes,” the retired teacher said. “The answer to a question in the reading portion of the test should be correct as long as it is backed up by a rational argument. An answer in the math section should receive partial credit if they worked the problem correctly. If a student must choose only one answer and one way to explain it, that is not okay. We need critical thinkers and that does not teach critical thinking skills.”

School administrators and teachers are reluctant to speak out for or against the bill. Many fear loss of state or federal funding if they speak out for the bill and it does not pass or if they speak out against the bill and it does pass. If the measure passes, parents must notify the school at least two days prior to the administration of the test. The bill would take effect prior to the start of the 2015-2016 school year.