June 03, 2020
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Standardized testing opt-out bill revived by Maine House, Senate

Sun Journal | BDN
Sun Journal | BDN
Sen. Nate Libby

AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill seeking to spell out the rights of parents to excuse their children from taking standardized tests in school was revived Monday when an amended version of it received initial approval from the Maine Senate.

LD 695, sponsored by Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, would require the Department of Education to create an annual report outlining federal and state testing opt-out laws and any court rulings affecting them. It says the annual report must be disseminated to each school administrative district and posted on the department’s website. It states teachers may inform parents of the report’s contents or refer parents to administrators for that information.

Earlier versions of the bill sought to codify in statute that the right to opt out exists and require the state and school districts to notify parents of that right. The right to opt out already exists, and several federal court decisions have supported it. The bill’s advocates said during public hearings that some districts were not open about opt-out rules.

During Senate proceedings Monday, a motion to reject the bill failed by a vote of 24-11 with t he heavily amended bill receiving unanimous consent. Late last week, the House also rejected the “ought not to pass” committee report with a vote of 80-62 and moved ahead with the amended bill.

“Classroom time is already at a premium, and standardized testing mandates only increase the intensity of that. Parents and students in my community are seeking relief from these heavy-handed testing mandates,” said Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, the lead co-sponsor of the measure. “Teachers and parents know what is best for their students; yet, some school districts have been making it less than easy for parents to opt their children out.”

On two separate occasions, the bill failed to gain the approval of the Legislature’s education committee. After its initial rejection, the bill was amended to remove much of its proactive language, but the committee again declined to recommend approval.

More procedural votes are expected in the coming weeks before the bill gets final approval.

Several members of the education committee were hesitant to support the bill in its original or amended form because of concerns such a vote would be seen as an opt-out endorsement.

A growing number of Maine parents and teachers have been pushing back against standardized testing and Common Core standards in the past year. This culminated in several bills proposed this year, including one that would drop Smarter Balanced testing after its debut year, which appears to be headed toward passage.

The Maine Department of Education has cautioned that fallout could result from high opt-out rates. Schools could lose federal funding if fewer than 95 percent of students take the test. Also, individual districts have the option of requiring completion of standardized tests as a condition of graduation, meaning diplomas could be withheld if a student refuses to take the test.

“There’s a lot of confusion about whether a child is required to take the test,” said State Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, who serves on the state’s Education and Cultural Affairs committee. “At this point in time, it is critical that we as a state provide consistent and clear information to our educators and our families about the law.”

Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.


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