My Public Comment at the House Education Committee Meeting Today in Support of House Bill 50***

Parental Opt-Out of Standardized Testing

I gave public comment at the Delaware House Education Committee meeting today in support of House Bill 50 which would codify a parent’s right to opt their child out of the state standardized assessment, currently the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Due to a time constraint of two minutes, I had to read fast, but when I got the thirty second sign from an aide, I sped it up and read the key parts from paragraph 4 but then had to stop.  A funny thing happened towards the end.  I fixated my entire focus on one person in the room, none other than Delaware Secretary of Education Mark Murphy.

To the members of the Delaware House Education Committee:

Thank you for allowing parents to have the right to speak today on what has been a very controversial issue: the right for parents to opt their children out of standardized assessments. I have to give credit where credit is due. My wife first introduced me to the topic of opt-out a year ago. When she informed me she wanted us to opt our son out of the upcoming Smarter Balanced Assessment, my immediate reaction was a vehement “No”. My gut reaction told me this would cause problems for my son in the school and I didn’t want to make waves. I heard about some crazy parents and teachers in New York protesting the tests, but I didn’t do much research on it. But then I found a friend from high school was one of the teachers and a parent, and I looked into it.

As a result of that one evening, I stand here today, imploring this committee to release this legislation. I believe it is the parent who can best decide for their children. I do not believe children are the property of the State or our schools. Yes, they have legal responsibilities for our children. But in recent years, those responsibilities have not served the best interest of our children. Our children are tested more than ever. There are those who believe we need accountability in our schools, but when that accountability is measured by the very same construct designed by those of the same mindset that created the current wave of education reform, it becomes a self-serving interest.

I have a child with disabilities. He does not have severe cognitive issues. While I respect Senator Poore immensely, I believe Senate Bill 229 from the 147th General Assembly did not give all students with disabilities an option. The vast majority of students with disabilities in our state do not fit into the category for alternative assessments. However, they are expected to perform at the same level of their peers as indicated by the goals of the Delaware DOE, Mark Murphy and Governor Markell. As a result of these goals, the DOE is currently instituting standards-based IEPs across the state. These new IEP goals, which would include goals towards the Common Core State Standards and the state assessment, are not part of Federal IDEA regulations, Delaware State Code, or even in the potential passing of Senator Poore’s Senate Bill 33. At the IEP Task Force last fall, even then Lieutenant Governor Matt Denn argued against making standards-based IEPs a part of the Governor’s report.

While we ponder on House Bill 50 today, we have to ask why the DOE is insistent on making an issue out of Federal requirements for state assessments on one hand, but on the other is implementing standards into special education with no legislative or Federal approval, or even true stakeholder input. They want to have it both ways. They will cite Federal regulation when it serves their purposes, but completely ignore it when it doesn’t.

I have heard from numerous parents and teachers across our state about this issue. Taking away the accountability factor for our teachers on an unproven assessment, taking away the fact that the DOE paid for the Smarter Balanced Assessment prior to receiving legislative approval, taking away the fact that our state joined on inter-state consortium without Congressional approval, taking away the fact that millions upon millions of dollars have been spent by the DOE on this one test, taking away the fact that the 147th General Assembly was not given all the information about the eventual uses of this assessment without their input, taking away the fact that many superintendents, schools and our DOE have blatantly misguided parents about their rights to opt out of the state assessment, it comes down to the students.

We are currently in the middle of the testing window. There have been numerous issues with the implementation of the test. Technical issues have resulted in some schools having to administer the test twice because the instruction manual gave the wrong directions. Accommodations for students with disabilities are not coming up and children are forced to sit and wait for hours while the teacher figures out how to get them to come up. There have been many reports of students becoming physically ill and vomiting over anxiety of this test. This doesn’t happen during the other assessments throughout the year. It is happening over THIS test, the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

Parents who are aware of these issues have chosen not to make their children a part of this. As parents, we want to protect our children from anything which would cause them harm. THIS TEST causes more harm than good. Parents have the right to opt their child out of the state assessment. This bill will only codify what is their inalienable right and insert into state code what is already known. In stark contradiction to Mark Murphy’s statement that parents aren’t allowed to opt out, I say we are and we will continue to do so no matter what happens today. These are our children. We gave them life and we shoulder the responsibility to make the best choices for them until they can decide for themselves. I choose to refuse this test for my child and I support every single parent who does the same. I choose to believe this committee will choose to support parents today. I choose to believe they will support the rights of every single parent in our state. As citizens of America, if we never chose to speak out against what we believe is wrong, we wouldn’t even be a country. This is just another step along our growth in exercising these rights. I support House Bill 50, and I pray that this body does as well. Thank you, and please follow your conscience today in supporting our children.

Kevin Ohlandt

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