The South Dakota House saw two smokeout bids yesterday. (Alas, if it had been a smokeout of hoghouse bills, we'd be talking bacon!) The smokeout is a procedure by which a third of a full chamber (24 in the House) can order a committee to send to the floor a bill that the committee killed.
Rep. Steve Hickey (R-9/Sioux Falls) attempted to revive his death penalty repeal. Only 20 legislators stood for that motion.
Rep. Jim Bolin (R-16/Canton) moved to revive his House Bill 1187, a measure to allow students to opt out of taking any state-mandated standardized tests. Rep. Bolin's smokeout succeeded with 24 legislators standing for the opportunity to bring HB 1187 to the floor. We may have the pleasure of that debate today.
HB 1187 is another prong of Rep. Bolin's mostly unfruitful attack on Common Core. My conservative friend Ken Santema approves of HB 1187 for promoting parent choice, but it doesn't increase that choice much. It may free students from having to spend a week or two taking state tests geared toward Common Core, but it does not liberate them from the Common Core curriculum and the associated, graded classroom tests that they will take throughout the school year.
I'm also not convinced the bill is best vehicle for achieving anti-Common Core parents' ends. SDCL 13-3-55 requires all schools to administer the standardized tests, and SDAR 24:55:07:01 requires all public school students to take those tests, but no state law or rule requires that students pass those tests, or even try. Students are free to mark a perfunctory row of Cs, close the test booklet, and spend the rest of the testing period reading Darwin, Steinbeck, or C.S. Lewis. The school's score on the state report card will be sandbagged by bad test scores, but that's no skin off the kids' noses.
A quiet boycott is much simpler than the paperwork created by HB 1187. Right now, if a student doesn't want to take the test, the student just puts her pencil down. Simple! HB 1187 requires that parents file an official opt-out letter, complete with notary seal, 180 days before the beginning of the school fiscal year. That's usually July 1. So under HB 1187, if you want your kids not to take the first great Common Core exams in spring 2015... well, dang, it's already too late to opt out. You'd have had to submit your letter to your school board by January 2, 2014.
HB 1187 does protect students from any penalty for opting out of the test, though right now, the authority of a school to punish a student for performing poorly or not at all on a standardized test that does not count for any course grade or for graduation is doubtful.
I won't mind if HB 1187 passes, but I prefer a simpler mechanism for protesting Common Core and standardized tests. Parents and students already have the power to fight the power: just put the pencil down and read a good book... or maybe a really blog discussion of capital punishment.