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Testing opt-out bill dies in House

Opt-out signs

Lawn signs are appearing to encourage people to allow their children to skip certain school tests. North Dakota lawmakers in the House rejected a bill on Monday that would have guaranteed parents the right to have their chidren excused from the tests.

The "opt-out bill" that has garnered debate over parents' ability to control whether their kids take certain school tests died Monday by an overwhelming majority in the House.

House Bill 1283 had lost the support of its original advocates after the Senate amended it to prohibit students from skipping the ACT, WorkKeys assessments or any test required to graduate or pass a certain grade level.

Lawmakers in the House voted 83-7 to reject the final version of the measure.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo, asked his colleagues to vote it down.

"I would rather have this bill die than achieve the opposite of its intent," he said.

Senators who supported the changes last month said they singled out specific tests they felt were important for students to take. Parents would still have had discretion over whether their kids should take other assessments, such as the new standardized test offered to North Dakota students for the first time this spring.

Critics of the Senate's amendment indicated they didn't want parents stripped of their ability to opt their kids out of the ACT and WorkKeys assessments.

Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, said Monday he felt the members of the House who worked with senators to sort out differences between the two versions of the bill did not do enough to try to restore the initial intent.

The measure originally focused on several types of tests administered to North Dakota students.

It guaranteed parents the right to excuse their kids from the Smarter Balanced standardized assessment. The new online test underway in schools this spring has replaced the paper-and-pencil version of the North Dakota State Assessment.

The original version of the bill also let parents opt their kids out of the ACT, WorkKeys and interim assessments, as well as career interest inventories.

The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction already allows parents to excuse their kids from standardized tests. The bill would have written that practice into law.

Advocates of the opt-out movement say schools vary widely in how they respond to requests from parents. In Bismarck, parents who ask that their kids skip certain tests say they get called into the school for a meeting, where school officials try to get them to reconsider.

State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler told the House Education Committee earlier this year that 39 students opted out of standardized tests last school year in North Dakota.

That number is growing as the push to encourage parents to opt their kids out of tests heats up. A group of parents has spearheaded the campaign in North Dakota as the state geared up to implement the Smarter Balanced test based on the Common Core math and English standards.

The backlash against testing and the new standards has met little success this legislative session in North Dakota. House lawmakers killed another bill, sponsored by Kasper, that would have required the state to throw out Common Core and withdraw from the organization that developed the Smarter Balanced test.

(Reach Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8267 or amy.sisk@bismarcktribune.com.)

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