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Hassan vetoes bill letting students opt out of state tests Hassan vetoes bill letting students opt out of state tests



Last modified: Sunday, June 14, 2015
Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan vetoed legislation yesterday that would have allowed parents to opt their students out of statewide, Common Core-aligned tests without consequences for the students or school districts.

In her veto message, Hassan said the bill could jeopardize federal funding and would send a message that New Hampshire doesn’t value high standards. The statewide chamber of commerce sent Hassan a letter urging her to veto the bill.

“These tests provide the only statewide snapshot as to how our public schools are performing, serving as an additional measure to inform us about how well students are being educated,” Hassan said.

The Republican-controlled Legislature could override the veto with support from two-thirds of each chamber. It’s unclear whether there are enough votes to clear that hurdle; Republican Sen. Nancy Stiles joined with the 10 Democratic senators to try to kill the bill earlier this year.

Republican Rep. JR Hoell, the bill’s prime sponsor, said Hassan’s veto shows that she favors heavy federal regulations in education. Hoell does not support the Common Core education standards that New Hampshire’s tests are based on.

“She is not interested in standing up for the parents’ rights, nor what is best for children,” Hoell said.

State and federal law requires schools to administer a test every year in grades 3 through 8 and again in high school, typically in 11th grade. New Hampshire schools began implementing the Smarter Balanced Assessment this year, a test aligned with the Common Core education standards that are facing opposition nationwide.

Although state law doesn’t allow students to opt out of the test, some New Hampshire school districts are letting parents exempt their children from taking them. In the Nashua School District, nearly half the junior class did not take the test. Many students in Manchester schools refused the test as well.

The state is now collecting data on how many students statewide skipped the test, said Heather Gage, director of the division of educational improvement at the New Hampshire Department of Education. If less than 95 percent of students statewide take the test, federal funding could be in jeopardy, Gage said.

The department also plans to look into whether districts that let students skip the test violated state law and, if so, what the consequences could be.

Mark Conrad, Nashua’s superintendent, said the district’s school board did not want to penalize students whose parents didn’t want them taking the Smarter Balanced test. A far greater number of high school students opted out of the test than expected. Ninety-nine percent of elementary school students took the test and 93 percent of eighth graders took it, he said. But in 11th grade, roughly half of the students opted out.

Conrad said he believes it is important for students to take statewide assessments and that the district will continue to discuss opt-out policies.

“I do believe it’s important that we have an accountability system and that students have opportunities to take these rigorous assessments,” he said. “As soon as you open a door to large numbers of students opting themselves out, you really lose a lot of the value of that assessment.”