ANNAPOLIS — Knoxville mom Cindy Rose appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee for the third year in a row Friday to advocate for Ben’s Rule, a measure named for her son.
The bill, introduced each year by Delegate David Vogt, would allow some parents to opt children with disabilities out of the state’s standardized tests.
Rose took a few minutes to illustrate the issue for the committee.
Ben, a sixth-grader, is nonverbal and has academic abilities near a kindergarten level.
“He’s still trying to master how many 3 is and what his name looks like,” Rose said. “That’s exactly what he was doing this time last year when we were before you.”
If Ben were to take the Multi-State Alternate Assessments intended for children with disabilities, he would be asked to identify and use pronouns accurately in writing, find synonyms, and divide fractions.
“While Ben and his teacher are busy working on helping him comprehend ‘3,’ he is forced to take time out of his day to divide fractions without the understanding of what a fraction is,” Rose said. “... Why are we asking children who don’t understand what 3 is to divide fractions? Why are we forcing teachers to waste hours on things they know their students aren’t ready for?”
Rose said parents should be able to opt their children out of such testing to save classroom time and focus on educational achievements specific to each child.
Vogt, R-District 4, said he met with state and local groups after a similar bill was voted down last year. The new measure is more narrowly tailored to include only students with disabilities who are nonverbal. It has gained additional support, including from the Maryland State Education Association, Vogt said.
However, the bill remains opposed by the Arc of Maryland, a disability rights group, which submitted written testimony.
The organization believes that exempting students with disabilities from state and district testing violates the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
A fiscal and policy note written by nonpartisan analysts still concludes that any bill that would allow too many students to opt out of standardized testing could jeopardize $429 million in federal education funds.
Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, states can have a limited “opt out” provision from testing, but must assess 95 percent of students and 95 percent of special education subgroups to maintain federal funding.
The Maryland State Department of Education reported that the current participation rate in standardized tests has averaged 98.5 percent statewide over the past five years.
In an advice letter to Vogt, Assistant Attorney General Jeremy M. McCoy recommended revising the language in the bill from “child with a disability who is nonverbal” to a more specific term indicating that a child lacks “communicative competency.”
The bill’s original language could include students who are “nonverbal,” but have the cognitive ability to participate in grade-level standardized tests. The recommended language would further narrow the number of students who could opt out.
With the suggested change, “Maryland would likely still be able to meet the 95 percent assessment rule to be eligible for federal education funding,” McCoy wrote.
There are 26 cosponsors on the bill this year, including both the Democratic and Republican majority leaders in the House.