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East Lyme School Board Member Won't Have Daughter Take CMTs: Respectful district faces difficult case

Susan Notes:
This whole thing is a wowzer, and don't miss the last line: This could be a case that goes to the Supreme Court.

A teacher with a conscience quit so he could run for school board. And his conscience doesn't stop there.

By David Brensilver

East Lyme -
School board member Andrew Dousis and his wife Debbie have decided not to have their 8-year-old daughter take the Connecticut Mastery Test next month.

“Our teachers have done a fine job with our daughter,” Dousis said. “We're happy with the reporting our child's teachers have done. ... The CMT doesn't tell me anything about my child as a learner.”

Dousis, the former East Lyme High School football coach voted onto the board last November in a contentious election, was a teacher at Flanders Elementary School until last year. He currently works as a consultant for the Northeast Foundation for Children, a nonprofit teacher-training organization that works to create more productive classrooms.

He did not want his daughter's name in the newspaper.

“This is something that our family has decided to do,” Dousis said.

“She knows she's not taking the CMT,” Dousis said when asked what his daughter understands about the decision.

In a letter to Flanders Principal Kathryn Sassu, Superintendent of Schools Paul Smotas and school board Chairman Kathy Young-Murphy, Dousis indicated that his daughter, a third-grader, would be brought to school late on testing days.

Testing begins March 1.

“Andy's recognizing his right as a parent,” Young-Murphy said in reaction to the news.

Sassu said, “We respect Andy's request, and that's exactly what we'll do.”

But the situation is more complicated than that.

Smotas said, “While I respect (Dousis') decision to pursue this, either in civil disobedience or as a conscientious objector to No Child Left Behind, I must enforce the board's policies and state statutes.”

“I wanted him to know that I've still got a job to do,” Smotas said.

School board policy language has not been updated to reflect the amended state statute. Applicable school board policy language reads in part: “Each student enrolled in grades 4, 6, 8, and 10 (except those who are exempt) shall take a statewide mastery examination ...”

The state statute reads in part: “... beginning in the 2005-2006 school year, statewide mastery tests must be given annually, in March or April, to all students enrolled in grades three to eight, inclusive, and in grade ten to measure skills in reading, writing and mathematics.”

The statute was amended to comply with federal law.

Dousis is not a fan of standardized testing.

“Real, organic learning has been replaced,” Dousis said, by instruction that teaches to the tests.

“The test itself is simply a political football,” he said. “Nobody's winning because of the tests. Everybody's losing.”

“It's not really telling us what kids are learning,” Dousis said. “The love of learning is never assessed.”

Dousis pointed to the fact that the tests do not assess art, music, dance, science, social studies or movement, adding, “Those are things that make you a lifelong learner.”

William Congero, of the state Department of Education, said that administering the tests is a balancing act, and that adding assessment areas such as Dousis suggested would not only cost more but would require more testing time.

“In general,” Congero said, “I think it's pretty much agreed that the test measures what's important for that particular grade,” and can help identify areas of weakness and strength.

“It benefits the student, too,” he said.

Talking about the ramifications of a parent electing not to have his child take the CMT, Congero said, “It's against the law,” at both the state and federal level. “It would be different if the child was home-schooled.”

To his knowledge, though, Congero said that the department has not had to enforce the law.

“We do encourage the school districts ... to encourage and explain the test and the value of it,” he said.

Smotas said, “I've never run into this before.” He said the situation will be interesting as it unfolds, and that, “This could be a case that goes to the Supreme Court.”

— David Brensilver
Shore Publishing


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