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Gov. Deal vetoes bill allowing students to opt out of state tests without punishment

Saying it would create another “layer” of procedures, Gov. Nathan Deal on Tuesday vetoed legislation that would have established a clear right for students to refuse to take state tests without sanction.

House Bill 425 says schools cannot punish students who refuse to take standardized state tests, and it encourages state and local school boards to let students take them with paper and pencil rather than on a computer.

Channel 2's Mike Petchenik reports

Deal vetoed test opt-out legislation last year and repeated the reasoning behind that decision again this time: “local school districts currently have the flexibility to determine opt-out procedures for students who cannot, or choose not to, take these statewide assessments and I see no need to impose an additional layer of state-level procedures for these students,” his office said.

The governor added that paper-and-pencil testing contributes to slower turnaround time for test results, and said he wanted to reduce the opportunity for cheating.

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Meg Norris, who pushed both HB 425 and last year’s Senate Bill 355, criticized Deal’s reasoning as “weak” and said it shows he is aligned with “the testing juggernaut,” meaning the industry paid by tax dollars to write, administer and score the tests.

Both she and the bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Joyce Chandler, R-Grayson, insisted that HB 425 was not a test opt-out bill, saying parents already have that right. Rather, Norris said, the legislation stopped the state and school districts from excessively pressuring students to take the tests.

Norris’ group, Opt-Out Georgia, has documented complaints around the state of what she calls official “bullying” -- forcing students to stare at a wall while their peers test, or making them do homework afterward when the other kids get ice cream on the playground. She also noted a study that found that students who took a test on paper did better than their peers who took the same exam on a computer.

“For him to stick his head in the sand like this shows he doesn’t care about kids at all,” Norris said of the governor.

She echoed the complaints of teachers who say the results are of no use in their teaching of specific students since the results come back after the course is over. But teachers who will have those students in the future may benefit from the testing record, a point emphasized by the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a Florida-based group founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

HB 425 “would have harmed students and teachers by denying access to measurements that track progress on standardized assessments,” the group said.

This may not be the last time Deal confronts such legislation: Norris vowed to find a lawmaker to introduce a similar bill next year. “We’ll be back,” she promised.

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