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Governor Vetoes Opt-Out Bill, Signs Legislation to Reduce Testing for All Students

Date Posted: Thursday, July 16th, 2015
Categories:  News Office of Governor Markell

Emphasizes importance of annual statewide assessment for improving schools, while saying the state must move forward with reducing time spent on other tests

Wilmington, DE – Governor Markell announced today that he has vetoed House Bill 50, which would allow for any student to be opted-out of any state or district assessment, while he signed Senate Joint Resolution 2, which aims to eliminate unnecessary, ineffective, or redundant tests required by the state, districts, and individual schools.

In his veto statement (full text below), the Governor expressed agreement with concerns raised by parents and educators about the need to reduce the amount of time students spend on testing. However, he said he could not support encouraging opt-out of the annual state assessment, which provides information for teachers and school leaders to determine areas in which students are excelling or need additional help. It also represents a vital tool for evaluating the effectiveness and ensuring the best use of the more than $1 billion in state funds directed to the education system.

“HB 50 would undermine the only objective tool we have to understand whether our children are learning and our schools are improving. It has the potential to marginalize our highest need students, threaten tens of millions of dollars of federal funding, and undermine our state’s economic competitiveness – all without adequately addressing the issues that motivated many to support the legislation. That is why educators and school leaders have joined the civil rights community and business leaders in opposing the legislation, and why I am returning the bill unsigned,” wrote the Governor in a statement delivered to the House of Representatives.

“I have heard the concerns of some parents and teachers that our students are experiencing too much testing. I agree… And that is why I have signed Senate Joint Resolution 2, which will bring together teachers, parents, civil rights leaders, and legislators to help us review our required assessments and eliminate those that are unnecessary, ineffective, or redundant.”

SJR 2 builds on an initiative started by the Governor earlier this year, when he announced an inventory of all required state assessments, and support for districts to take stock of assessments required at the local level. The legislation signed today brings legislators and other key groups into the process of reviewing the inventory results and making recommendations about what assessments should be cut. In addition to requiring completion of the inventory, SJR 2 will:

  • Require districts to report the results of the inventory, including assessments that will be eliminated;
  • Require the Department of Education to do the same thing at the state level;
  • Require the Department to publish the results of the inventories to the House and Senate Education Committees, and to the public; and
  • Require the Department to convene three members each of the House and Senate Education Committees, along with representatives of the state teachers union, the state’s superintendents, the civil rights community, and parents, to review the inventory results and make recommendations about assessments to eliminate, with final results reported publicly by June 2016.

Civil rights groups and Delaware employers, along with the State Board of Education and teachers and school leaders, applauded the Governor’s decision:

“We strongly support Governor Markell’s decision to veto House Bill 50 because we must know if our children are learning, and we cannot fix what we cannot measure. If too many children opt out, we’ll lose perspective on how our children are doing with achieving the proficiency most important to succeeding in today’s world. We’d risk being unable to make meaningful demographic comparisons and track progress in relationship to other schools, districts, states, and countries.

“If a school misses its threshold on participation, it also has implications for school accountability and funding, potentially harming the most challenged in our communities: particularly families of color, families struggling with poverty, and families who need special education services or are learning English. While we support reducing the number of tests and the total testing time for our students, opt-out is not the way to accomplish this goal. We thank the Governor for recognizing this and understanding that we need to know where our children are on the learning curve in order to hold those responsible for teaching our children accountable.”

– Deborah T. Wilson (President and CEO of the Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League), Maria Matos (President and CEO of the Latin American Community Center), H. Raye Jones Avery (Executive Director of the Christina Cultural Arts Center, Inc.) and Jea P. Street (New Castle County Councilman for District 10)

“As employers in Delaware, as supporters of Delaware public schools, and as parents, we thank the Governor for his veto of House Bill 50. There are better ways to deal with legitimate concerns about over-testing, and we support the effort by the Administration and General Assembly to reduce testing for all students through Senate Joint Resolution 2.

“We must have a way to determine how our children compare against others in their school, the state, and the world. Opt out would damage that process. It signals to businesses and the families that we shouldn’t strive for all of our students to graduate ready for college or the workplace. The results of the annual state assessment inform families and educators on student progress, and will provide lawmakers with a better view of how millions of tax dollars are being spent. As business leaders and as parents, we need our education system to support each and every student and school in our state to help them succeed.”

– Mark Stellini (CEO Chair of Delaware State Chamber of Commerce), Rich Heffron (President Delaware State Chamber of Commerce), Mark Turner (Chair of Delaware Business Roundtable), Ernie Dianastasis (Chair of Delaware Business Roundtable Education Committee), Bob Perkins (Executive Director for Business Roundtable)

“We have openly and repeatedly shared the Board’s opposition to this bill, which we believe will do real and lasting damage to both our education system as a whole, and our goal of ensuring that all of our students – irrespective of their gender, race, or socio-economic background – graduate from our schools ready for college, career, and citizenship.

“Should HB 50 become law and parents simply decide to opt their child out of the assessment, teachers and administrators will be unable to collect and use the data to address necessary improvements to the curriculum, as well as identify specific areas where students are struggling and where they are excelling. This is especially important information for our most vulnerable populations who may need additional support and assistance. Furthermore, we will be at risk of not complying with federal requirements with regard to test administration and school accountability, potentially jeopardizing millions in federal Title I funding, which directly impacts those children and schools that need support the most.”

– President Teri Quinn Gray and Vice President Jorge Melendez (State Board of Education)

“I believe the opt-out movement has been driven in part by many misconceptions about the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  The main misconception about the assessment is the amount of time it takes to complete it. The math portion of the test is made up of 35 questions along with one performance task. In my class of special needs students, the test takes up a minimal amount of time compared to past state assessments. It is also aligned to the curriculum and standards teachers are using, so there is no need to do anything special to ‘teach to the test.’ The results of the state assessment provides teachers the necessary data to help their students and I appreciate the Governor’s opposition to House Bill 50.”

– Jesse Parsley (teacher, Milford School District)

“I understand the concerns that have been expressed over the stress some students experience in taking tests. However, my experience has been that students benefit when we challenge them to meet a higher bar – when we give them the chance to see how well they can perform.  Further, my experience is that our teachers are on board. They are working hard to make whatever adjustments are necessary to ensure that students are learning and that their learning is measured.

“One primary mechanism to measure that learning is through standardized tests; right now the test is “Smarter Balanced.” I believe that we will make the necessary adjustments to meet the demands of this test. We have a responsibility to give our children the best possible education, and these tests are an important measure to gauge that education and the  academic progress of all students.”

– Patricia Oliphant (principal, Sussex Academy)

“Strong educators at every level assess students constantly. The state assessment is an important piece of the puzzle as it can help us understand how our students are performing and their progression from year to year. Test results also help push us to make the necessary changes to ensure students aren’t falling behind and help us reflect on instructional choices. Whether or not you support opt out is a different question than whether students are over-tested. We should still do more to evaluate the volume of tests, or the value of the existing ones, and I urge the Governor, the Department of Education and the General Assembly to keep an open dialogue with teachers, parents and stakeholders so that together we can solve even the toughest of testing questions.”

– Courtney Fox (Head of School at First State Montessori Academy and former State Teacher of the Year from Brandywine School District)

 ___

Governor Markell Statement to House of Representatives Vetoing House Bill 50:

July 16, 2015

TO THE MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

OF THE 148TH GENERAL ASSEMBLY,

 

Pursuant to Article III, Section 18 of the Delaware Constitution, I am vetoing House Bill 50 by returning it with my objections to the House of Representatives without my signature.

We have no higher priority as a state than providing all of our children with a world-class education, and ensuring that they are prepared to compete in the increasingly global economy.  Every child, no matter his or her family situation or income or background, deserves the chance to reach his or her potential.  Their future, and the future of our state, depends on a quality education.

House Bill 50 would not help prepare our children, or our state, for success in the economy of tomorrow.  To the contrary, HB 50 would undermine the only objective tool we have to understand whether our children are learning and our schools are improving.  It has the potential to marginalize our highest need students, threaten tens of millions of dollars of federal funding, and undermine our state’s economic competitiveness – all without adequately addressing the issues that motivated many to support the legislation.  That is why educators and school leaders have joined the civil rights community and business leaders in opposing the legislation, and why I am returning the bill unsigned.

Universal statewide assessments provide our teachers, parents, and education officials with objective information about how children are doing – not just in their classrooms, or in their schools, but relative to their peers across the state and the country.  These test results are the clearest way we can evaluate whether our efforts to improve Delaware schools are working.  The state spends more than one billion dollars on education every year, and we all deserve to know whether those resources are spent well and whether our students are making progress.

If the test results don’t paint an accurate picture, particularly if struggling students are disproportionately encouraged to opt out as has happened elsewhere, we may not be able to identify the children who need intervention to be successful.  That is why civil rights groups in Delaware and across the country – including the NAACP, the National Urban League, the United Negro College Fund, the National Council of La Raza, and the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund – strongly support universal testing requirements and oppose “opt-out” legislation.   Low-income students, students with disabilities, and students of color have benefitted the most from the adoption of statewide testing requirements.  Those tests help us identify individual and groups of students who need more support, effectively focus additional resources on preparing our young people to reach their potential, and hold schools and districts accountable for ensuring that all of our students are learning.  That is also why federal law requires us to assess at least 95 percent of our students to receive millions of dollars in federal funding – it’s that important.  The loss of those federal funds, which disproportionately support low-income and high-needs students, is a risk I am unwilling to take.

I have heard the concerns of some parents and teachers that our students are experiencing too much testing.  I agree.  While I believe strongly in the value of a universal statewide assessment to tell us whether our students are making progress, the first priority of our schools must be to ensure that our students have the time they need to learn.  But to address that concern, we should not be encouraging certain students to opt out of a test that provides valuable information – we should eliminate entire tests for all of our children and put that time to work in the classroom.

That is why the Department of Education is conducting an inventory of all required state assessments, and providing districts with financial and technical support to do the same at the local level.  And that is why I have signed Senate Joint Resolution 2, which will bring together teachers, parents, civil rights leaders, and legislators to help us review our required assessments and eliminate those that are unnecessary, ineffective, or redundant.

I also understand, and have taken action to address, other frustrations that have led some parents and teachers to support HB 50, including concerns about the design of the Smarter Balanced statewide assessments and the use of student data for teacher evaluations and school accountability.  We asked for, and received, permission from the U.S. Department of Education to delay using Smarter Balanced results in teacher evaluation for two full years, while we all adjust to the new test.  We use many other measures to evaluate the progress of our students, and the effectiveness of our teachers, because we understand assessments are only one snapshot of our students’ success.  We have approved a process to allow schools and districts to pilot new educator evaluation systems.  We are continuing to provide feedback on Smarter Balanced to help make it better.  And we don’t require our students to take or pass the Smarter Balanced assessments for advancement or graduation.

I am committed to working with our entire education community to continue to address those concerns, but HB 50 is not part of the solution.  This bill does not reduce testing and does not say anything about how the state uses test results.  The only effect of HB 50 would be to establish a process for individual parents to prevent their individual students from participating in the Smarter Balanced English and math tests and any district assessment, which doesn’t solve the problems that our parents and teachers have named.  However, it can undermine our ability to identify students who need help and to measure our schools’ improvements.

In today’s economy, opportunity is increasingly tied to the quality of one’s education and our schools are the key to giving all of our children – especially those from struggling neighborhoods – the best chance to realize their potential. But we can’t make that possible if we find out too late that students have fallen behind.  If House Bill 50 becomes law, we will not know if many of our students really are on track to graduate ready for college or the workplace.

I cannot support a bill that runs counter to our efforts to ensure an objective, consistent, and reliable measure of all of our students’ progress. Without it, many students would be too easily forgotten.

Sincerely,

 

Jack A. Markell

Governor

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