COMMENTARY: Delaware legislators must override of veto of opt-out bill

It is a parent’s fundamental right to make educational decisions regarding their children’s education. So, why would the governor veto HB 50 when it received overwhelming support not only from the General Assembly, but the community, as well? Delaware PTA wants to highlight why an override of the veto is necessary.

HB 50 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. HB 50 also requires meaningful academic instruction for those students not participating in the test.

In its simplest form, HB 50 secures parents’ right to opt their child(ren) out of the assessment if they believe it is in the best interest of their child(ren). The bill acknowledges parents’ right to protect their child(ren) from unnecessary and harmful tests. At its core, HB 50 places students first. Quite simply, HB 50 is about parental rights and nothing more.

An overwhelming majority (86 per cent in the House and 71 percent in the Senate) supported and passed this bill at the end of June. Yet, despite the vote of the General Assembly and the strong public support expressed for HB 50 by educators through DSEA, parents and families, the state PTA and school administrations, the governor vetoed this bill.

Despite what opponents suggest, HB 50 is about one specific test — the current state assessment. As supporters of the bill, we are not suggesting or encouraging parents to opt out of state assessments, whether it’s the SBAC or another assessment. Rather, we believe this is the right of the family and a decision that should be left in the capable hands of parents to decide what is best for their children.

Delaware PTA, as well as the majority of HB 50 supporters, is not, and never has been, anti-assessment. We support standardized tests, if they are limited, are 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. 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 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. It simply is not true.

Regardless, the issue is about a parent’s voice. Although several local school districts have implemented policies that do not force a student to participate in the state assessment, there are many that have not.

HB50 protects the parents’ decision to test or not to test. It is their right. This simple fact is what the opposition does not understand.

To say HB 50 is not necessary because parents already have this right is misleading and irresponsible. The fact of the matter is that many parents who opted to exercise this right were threatened and intimidated by district officials. This is not acceptable, and this is why we must override the veto of HB 50.

Hundreds of constituents are joining Delaware PTA in our quest to override the veto. The people have spoken. The democratic process yielded support and passed the bill. The governor showed little regard for this. We urge our elected officials to do the right thing. Stand up for your constituency and vote to override the veto of HB 50.

Editor’s note: Dr. Terri Hodges and Yvonne Johnson are, respectively, the president and the vice president for advocacy of the Delaware Parent-Teacher Association.

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