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Dover Post
  • Capital shelves plan to let students opt out of state testing

  • The Capital school board voted unanimously Wednesday to table a proposal that sought to allow parents to excuse their children from state testing.
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  • The Capital school board voted in a  four to one vote Wednesday to table a proposal that sought to allow parents to excuse their children from state testing. Board members Kay Dietz Sass, Brian Lewis, Phillip Martino and Sean Christiansen voted to table the motion, while board president Matthew Lindell voted against tabling it. 
    The proposed change to the district’s accountability and assessment policy was initially presented at the board’s May 21 meeting.
    But the Delaware Department of Education later informed the district that it is legally obligated to test students, with exceptions made only for “extreme” medical incidents or mental health reasons.
    “There are no provisions in state or federal regulation that allow Delaware to have a system to ‘opt students out’ of the assessment,” department spokeswoman Alison May told the Dover Post last month. “In addition, state and federal laws are clear that there is an expectation that all students will participate in the state assessment system.”
    Prior to Wednesday vote to shelve the opt-out proposal, Lindell said parents should be allowed that right, as per the federal act that established the U.S. Department of Education in 1980.
    “Parents have the primary responsibility for the education of their children, and states, localities and private institutions have the primary responsibility for supporting that parental role,” he recited.
    Lindell said that perhaps the fight against standardized testing needs to begin at the grassroots level, like the civil rights movement.
    If the district had chosen to move forward with its proposal, the consequences would not fall on students or parents, but on the district, its schools and its staff, Assistant Superintendent Sandra Spangler said.
    “We have teachers who have been working very hard to get out of situations where they have been put Under Improvement,” she said, referring the state’s ranking for schools that fail to meet standardized testing goals. “They’ve made tremendous gains and our schools are in very good standing and to jeopardize that, I think, is going to be very tough for our staff to take. “
    Yet Dietz Sass, a driving force behind the opt-out proposal, said she heard a different response from staff.
    “There was quite an overwhelming support from people who feel the exact same way that any of us [on the board] feel,” she said.
    In order to meet their Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) goals, a school must have at least 95 percent participation in each subgroup, such as minorities and low-income students, as well as the general population.
    If even just a few students were opt out, it could have a major impact on those subgroups, Spangler said, adding that federal and state funding are contingent on the district meeting such accountability measures.
    Page 2 of 2 - Superintendent Michael Thomas said failure to meet AYP goals could put the district’s schools at risk of being identified as a “Priority School,” the state’s ranking for the lowest-performing schools, and subject to direct state intervention.
    “We are putting at risk every one of our schools being put on priority,” he said of the proposal. “That means the state is going to come in and direct us like we’ve never seen before. I’m not sure that’s what we want our schools to become.”
    Four intervention models are used by the state to improve Priority Schools, including replacing the building principal and half of the school’s staff, Spangler said.
    In the end, the board voted to turn to local state legislators for assistance.
    “We’ve got to take a stand somewhere, for the students and the teachers,” Christiansen said. “We’ve got to start somewhere and make a stand until one of the legislators actually sits there and makes bills that make sense.”

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