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Opting out, parents answer to a higher authority

Ohanian Comment: Students spending months learning how to type on an iPad.

Reader Comment: Please review Ms. Lecker's former piece, where she writes, "The tests are being developed independently of the states and school districts; by contractors hired by two multi-state consortia. It is impossible that these unfinished tests are aligned to curricula now being taught.

This type of experimentation would never be allowed in research. Human subject research must adhere to three basic principles: (1) respect for individuals; respecting their autonomy; (2) beneficence; doing no harm and maximizing possible benefits while minimizing risks; and (3) justice; taking special care not to exploit vulnerable groups."

The only moral action is to opt out.

by Wendy Lecker

This year, Connecticut school districts had the option of administering the CMTs and CAPTs one more year, or the Common Core tests, known as the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test, or the SBAC. The SBAC is just a field test, an experiment conducted in actual conditions -- on our actual children. For some reason, the vast majority of districts elected to offer the SBAC field tests.

I live in a district that chose the SBAC. The SBAC is to be administered on computers. Actually in our schools, some children will take the SBAC on computers and some on iPads. How this differential test administration qualifies as "standardized" is puzzling. The iPads are more difficult to type on, so now, in January, children are practicing -- for a test in May. What a productive way to spend school time.

As this SBAC test prep overtakes our schools, and interferes with learning, more parents may realize they do not want their children participating in this experiment. This realization may be especially important for parents of 11th-graders, who already took the CAPTs last year, and who will be facing these standardized tests, which do not count, at roughly the same time they are taking SATs, SAT subject tests, APs and ACTs.

As I detailed in my column several weeks ago, the State Department of Education knew this protest might be coming, so it orchestrated a strategy for bullying parents into not opting out of these tests. I noted that SDE provided districts with a sample letter to parents who indicate they want to opt their children, warning them that state law "requires that all children enrolled in public schools must take yearly state assessments;" but not informing parents that there is no punishment to a parent or child who insists on opting out. A sin of omission.

However, it appears now that SDE's letter is even more egregiously deceitful. Comparing the Connecticut law on testing to the actual SBAC documents explaining their field tests reveals the deceit. The truth is that these SBAC field tests are not the type of tests required by this law.

Connecticut law mandates that students take a "statewide mastery test," defined as "an examination which measures whether or not a student has mastered essential grade-level skills in reading, language arts and mathematics."

According to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, their field tests, the final experimental phase of test development, measure "the performance of more than 20,000 assessment items and performance tasks." The field tests are also "an opportunity to make sure technology systems and administration logistics are ready."

The field tests do not measure "whether a student has mastered" essential skills. They do not measure the performance of students at all. They measure the performance of test questions and of the computers and/or iPads the students must use for the test.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium also states that these 2014 field tests will be used "to set preliminary achievement standards in summer 2014."

Connecticut law states that children must take a statewide test that measures mastery. For the SBAC tests, the level of "mastery" has not even been established yet.

These experimental field tests cannot be covered by Connecticut law because they fail to satisfy the basic elements the law clearly sets forth of the required statewide test. Thus, students are not "required" to take them.

In a recent commentary, New York state Sen. George Latimer likened the Common Core to the 1980s failure New Coke. Coca-Cola marketed New Coke as a brand that would revolutionize soda. However, it was all marketing and no substance. The product itself was roundly rejected by the public, who liked what they already had.

Senator Latimer nailed it. To our leaders, public education is a commodity. A U.S. Department of Education official declared that our public schools are a "national market" for Common Core products. Connecticut officials exploit our children as crash-test dummies for SBAC's assessments.

However, public education was never intended to be a business. In the words of one Connecticut Supreme Court justice, public education is vital "not only because our state constitution declares it as such, but because education is the very essence and foundation of a civilized culture . . . it is as necessary to a civilized society as food and shelter are to an individual."

In opting their children out of experimental tests, parents are not only following Connecticut law, they are demanding that our leaders obey the constitution and return our schools to their essential democratic mission.

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity project at the Education Law Center.

— Wendy Lecker
Stamford Advocate





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