Delaware opt-out bill clears Senate committee

     A bill advanced by the Delaware Senate Education Committee gives parents the right to opt their children out taking the the Smarter Balanced assessment, a state test being given for the first time this year. (<a href=Photo via ShutterStock) " title="shutterstock_203920246" width="640" height="360"/>

    A bill advanced by the Delaware Senate Education Committee gives parents the right to opt their children out taking the the Smarter Balanced assessment, a state test being given for the first time this year. (Photo via ShutterStock)

    A Delaware bill codifying parents’ ability to opt their children out of a new standardized test has cleared the State Senate’s education committee.

     The “opt-out bill” was signed out of committee Thursday evening. All eight of the committee’s members signed the bill out. One committee member did not favor the legislation, but still signed it out. Seven senators signed the bill on its merits.

    The bill gives parents the right to opt their children out of the Smarter Balanced assessment, a state test being given for the first time this year. It also requires schools to provide alternative activities for students who choose not to take the test and notify parents in advance of their right to opt out.

    So far, roughly one percent of Delaware students have opted out of Smarter Balanced, according to unofficial figures tabulated by NewsWorks/WHYY.

    Though the bill is relatively tame, it has sparked fierce debate in the First State. The bill’s supporters–who include the state PTA –say the law will create a path for parents to remove their children from a test some feel is unproven and whose results will be used to unfairly judge teachers and schools.

    Opt-out opponents–including various business groups and the state Department of Education–argue the state needs a valid tool to measure student progress, teacher effectiveness, and school performance. Civil rights groups also worry schools will abuse the law to omit at-risk and disadvantaged students, thus boosting their scores but obscuring areas of need.

    That debate boiled over during a Wednesday meeting of the Senate Education Committee that featured intense testimony from both sides.

    The opt-out bill barely cleared the state House Education Committee in April after a lengthy floor debate. It then steamrolled through the house by a vote of 36-3.

    After passing through the senate education committee Thursday, it can now moves to the Senate floor for a vote.

    Gov. Jack Markell opposes the legislation and has hinted that he may veto the opt-out bill if it reaches his desk. Markell has acknowledged an overabundance of standardized tests in Delaware schools and recently launched a testing inventory meant to eliminate redundant state and local exams.

    The governor, however, stands by the Smarter Balanced assessment, which is designed to gauge student mastery of Common Core State Standards and is being administered in 16 other states.

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