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Gov. Markell launches plan to reduce student testing in schools amid “opt-out” debate

Delaware Public Media

Gov. Jack Markell (D-Delaware) announced a new initiative Thursday to reduce testing in Delaware schools.

Under the plan, the state Department of Education will provide financial and technical support to school districts to take an inventory of all assessments given at each school. The state will also provide assistance communicating new testing plans to parents and families.
Markell says the plan will eliminate repetitive and ineffective assessments.

“We think doing this inventory of testing where districts will be able to take a look at all of the assessments that are required, continue to use the ones that make sense, get rid of the ones that don’t make sense, will reduce the amount of testing time and will increase the amount of time that’s actually available to focus on what matters, which is instruction,” said Markell.

The move comes as  some parents and lawmakers are pushing to allow children to “opt-out” of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which is based on federal Common Core standards.

Secretary of Education Mark Murphy says the review should eliminate the need to opt-out of testing.

“Let’s make sure all the assessments we deliver for our children are assessments we believe in, assessments that deliver high-quality information,” he says, “If we do that, then opt-out becomes a moot point because this is providing high-quality information for all of the people involved, from kids right on to adults.”

State lawmakers introduced a bill in the General Assembly this week that would allow parents to keep their children from taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

Rep. Earl Jaques (D-Glasgow), chair of the House Education Committee, says that bill faces an uphill climb, and Gov. Markell's action Thursday is a suitable alternative.

“Opt-out is probably not going to happen legislative wise. I think there’s not enough support there. Opt-out is almost like a mini failure, that you can’t measure up, and that’s just not the American way," said Jaques. "Is there too much testing? Absolutely. This is the easiest way to do it, instead of taking on the federal government. Let’s control the part that we can control, which is the state and district mandated assessments.”

The Delaware State Education Association, the largest union representing First State public school education employees, is applauding the governor’s plan to reduce testing in First State schools.

The DSEA called the initiative a “much-needed first step”, especially if teachers have a say in the process.

"Too much testing, and the high-stakes often attached to the results, has diminished our students' love of learning and our educators love of teaching," Frederika Jenner, DSEA president, said in a statement. "We will support efforts to eliminate redundant, ineffective, and unnecessary tests as long as educators are directly and fully involved in the review of these tests and testing procedures."