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DOVER, Del. (AP) — An effort to override Gov. Jack Markell's veto of a bill allowing Delaware school students to opt out of standardized tests fizzled Thursday when House members refused to suspend rules to consider the issue.
The vote to suspend the rules failed by a 2-to-1 margin, with 13 lawmakers in favor and 26 against.
Rep. John Kowalko, a Newark Democrat leading the override effort, expressed his frustration afterward. He said his colleagues abdicated their responsibility to discuss and vote on an important public policy matter.
"Is our agenda to ignore the rights of parents?" he asked.
Supporters of the "opt-out" bill, which passed the House and Senate in June, have argued that parents should have the right to control their children's education, including deciding whether they should take standardized tests.
"This is about parental rights, parental decision and making decisions that we feel are in the best interests of our children, and not letting those decisions be made by the state Department of Education, by the governor, by the federal government," Terri Hodges, president of the Delaware PTA, said at a rally.
Kowalko told the demonstrators at the rally, which drew about 20 bill supporters, that children have a right "not to be fearful" and "not to be humiliated."
The legislation would allow students to opt out of both statewide and districtwide tests without repercussions and require that they be provided "alternative learning activities" while their peers take the tests.
But Education Secretary Steven Godowsky noted Thursday that the state already is not penalizing students who opt out of the state assessment.
"It's very clear that we're not having penalties or consequences for those kids," he said.
Godowsky's comments came after House passage of a resolution directing him to provide options, by May 1, for lawmakers to consider a uniform process for districts and schools to notify parents of their opt-out rights, and a uniform procedure for the parents to opt out of statewide assessments.
The legislation vetoed by Markell is aimed in particular at the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which is tied to Common Core standards that he championed and which have been adopted by many states.
Statewide, barely half of Delaware students, 52 percent, showed proficiency in English on the Smarter Balanced assessment last year, the first year of its implementation. Less than 39 percent scored proficiently in math, including less than one-fourth of 11th graders. Test results also showed black students performing significantly worse on average than white and Asian-American students.
Markell said in vetoing the bill that allowing students to opt out of tests could marginalize the highest-need students, threaten millions of dollars in federal funding and undermine Delaware's economic competitiveness.
The administration, meanwhile, has agreed to delay using Smarter Balanced test results for teacher evaluations for the next two years and launched a review of the overall testing burden on school students.
The administration also announced last week that it was scrapping the Smarter Balanced test for high school juniors in favor of the SAT college entrance exam.
"I continue to believe that we must have an objective way to know whether our children are learning and how much our schools are improving, but we must also maximize time for our students to learn," Markell said in a statement Thursday. He added, ".... I look forward to working with teachers, parents, civil rights leaders, and legislators to improve our assessments and continue to strengthen our education system to better serve our kids."
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