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Connecticut's Federal Lawsuit Criticized

Ohanian Comment:Haycock blames teachers for the achievement gap between of white and affluent students and their black, Latino and less privileged counterparts. I've heard this spiel when she's talking to reporters. It is ugly.

The director of The Education Trust, a Washington-based education advocacy group, was the guest of the State Board of Education Wednesday, but that didn't stop her from expressing her low opinion of the state's decision to sue the U.S. Department of Education over the No Child Left Behind Act.

After a lengthy presentation on the education achievement gap between white and affluent students and their black, Latino and less privileged counterparts, board members asked Kati Haycock what she thought of the state's decision to sue.

Connecticut tests students in grades 4, 6, 8 and 10, but top education officials, including Education Commissioner Betty J. Sternberg, say adding grades 3, 5 and 7, as the law requires, would add little new information and cost more than $8 million to administer. The state applied for a waiver, was rebuffed, and now plans to assert in court that unless the federal government pays, the state is not obligated to add the tests.

"We think we gather enough information in curriculum development ... in an every-other-year test," said Allan B. Taylor, chairman of the State Board of Education. "Are there any other reasons that you disagree with us on that?" he asked Haycock.

Haycock said she has two reasons for disagreeing: Yearly tests "tease out" the talented teachers from the less talented, and give parents notice of their children's struggles.

"If my child got a below basic performance, I'd sure as heck rather know sooner rather than later," Haycock said.

Sternberg said standardized tests do not offer quick feedback because it takes at least four months to get results. The money used on extra testing, she said, would be better spent on professional development and other initiatives.

"All I'm telling you is why people like me have concluded this is the better way to do it," Haycock said. "You have whatever fights you want to have ... but be careful your message isn't heard as your minority students are doing well. ... Is this a state that's making a lot of progress for all kids, especially those with the lowest achievement? The answer is `No,'" she said.

Although the language and tone she used with the board was measured, Haycock let loose with reporters after her presentation was over. Suing is "absolutely" a mistake, she said. "To say asking your kids to get to standards you've set is an unfunded mandate is insane. These are state standards," she said.

During her presentation, Haycock presented slides that showed decades of stubborn achievement gaps in the state and the nation. The tremendous success of some schools in high-poverty areas with mostly minority students in various states shows that student achievement has more to do with what happens in a school than the economic and racial profile of its student body, she said.

"It is not the kids. It's the teachers," Haycock said.

— Rachel Gottlieb
Hartford Courant


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