The parent opt out movement is in full swing in Delaware. HB 50, legislation sponsored by Rep John Kowalko provides a consistent process to allow Delaware parents to opt their child(ren) out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment without fear of punishment or reprisal from district and school administration. The Bill also requires meaningful academic instruction for those students not participating in the test. In its simplest form, HB 50 secures a parent’s right to opt their child(ren) out of the assessment if they believe it is in the best interest of their child. The Bill acknowledges the parent’s right to protect their child from unnecessary and harmful tests. At its core, HB 50 places students first.
The increased momentum of the parent opt out movement in Delaware has resulted in an increase of misinformation regarding the purpose, intent and implications of HB 50. Delaware PTA supports HB 50 and a parent’s right to choose. This was a decision that was voted on and supported by our Board of Managers after months of research and community outreach among various stakeholders throughout the state. Delaware PTA is not encouraging any family to opt out of the state assessment. We do not believe it is our place to make such an important decision on behalf of thousands of Delaware families. We believe that this fundamental right is reserved for the family. Our goal in advocating for HB 50 and the parent opt out is to ensure that every family has the ability to make that decision, free of coercion, intimidation and fear of reprisal from their district and the state of Delaware. Current state code does not contain any language that prohibits the parent/guardians from opting their student out of the state assessment. Many school and district officials have already confirmed that they cannot and will not force a student to participate in the assessment. HB 50 simply codifies this.
Rather than debate the merits of a parent’s rights, those who oppose HB 50 continue to play on the fears of parents, exploit the vulnerable and coerce other stakeholders by misleading them on the intent and value of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Opponents of HB 50 have waged a war against parents, students and teachers. They claim a parent has no right to decide what is best for their child. Implying that these decisions are better left in large part, to large for-profit corporations and other parties that stand to benefit financially from the Smarter Balanced Assessment. State leaders say they want family engagement. They say they want parents to be involved in the education of their children, but only when it suits them.
Delaware PTA is not, and never has been anti-assessment. We support standardized tests, if they are limited, developmentally appropriate and provide useful instructional feedback. The Smarter Balanced Assessment does none of this. Assessments, regardless of which one is used, have to be judged against their intended uses. The SBAC was not designed to meet the needs of students and teachers; it was designed to meet the needs of the state, to allow state level and inter-consortia comparisons of student performance. For years parents and teachers were led to believe that No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top initiatives would help identify at risk students and schools, allowing state officials to direct resources and supports to our most neediest schools in an attempt to reduce the achievement gap. In fact, all that has happened under these initiatives were attempts to label, punish and close our schools. Yet, we are to believe that the new Smarter Balanced Assessments will do more than prior assessments and initiatives, and that the Smarter Balanced Assessments are necessary to reduce the achievement gap.
In 2013, Delaware PTA expressed concerns with the then proposed Smarter Balanced Assessments. We met regularly with decision makers in an attempt to have these concerns corrected prior to piloting and implementing the assessment. In 2014, exactly one year ago this month, Delaware PTA went on record in opposition of HB 334, the legislation that allowed Smarter Balanced to replace DCAS as the state assessment for English Language Arts and Math. We urged legislators not to support this Bill and we outlined very specific concerns with the Smarter Balanced Assessments, the same concerns we had been addressing since 2013. Despite the numerous concerns and flaws with the assessment, leadership pushed forward with Smarter Balanced and HB 334 was passed. Here we are in 2015 and the very concerns we voiced in 2013 and again in 2014, are now being voiced by our legislators and other stakeholders. Nothing has changed. That is why it is imperative that parents, teachers, legislators and community members support HB 50. We realize that the parent opt out is symptomatic of a larger problem. We understand that many educators, parents and community members want to change the Smarter Balanced Assessment to an assessment that actually provides meaningful individual student data in a timely manner. However, we must not ignore the right of a parent to make these critical decisions while we continue to work together to address the testing problems in our state.
We all want to see reductions in the achievement gap. For years, Delaware PTA and other stakeholders have worked tirelessly to advocate for an increase in supports and services for at risk students. We know that the solution to this problem is not more testing. Our public schools are being destroyed by the negative effects from annual high-stakes testing, which include less creative and engaging schooling; the de-professionalization of teachers and teaching; the reduction of teaching of the arts, music, social studies, and science; and the continued intimidation of our parents and teachers.
Parents are not opting out because the test is “too hard”. Parents are opting out because this overly subjective assessment provides no value to the student or teacher. The test results are not available until after the academic year has ended and students are losing valuable instruction time. Parents want meaningful assessments that produce accurate and valid data on how their student is performing. They want feedback that allows them to work with the teachers to support student learning and growth. Parents support HB 50 because they want teachers to teach and students to learn.
Dr. Terri Hodges is President of the Delaware PTA. Yvonne Johnson is the Delaware PTA VP of Advocacy.