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Another Family Says No to Mastery Test

Susan Notes: Different children have different needs, and so parents keep them from one-size-fits-all standardized testing for different reasons. High-stakes bingo is a good descriptor.

By David Brensilver

East Lyme -
For Laura Kokoska and Michael Andrews, keeping their son, a fourth-grader at Niantic Center School, out of class during the Connecticut Mastery Test was a way to protect his self-esteem.

Kokoska said her son is a student with learning challenges who is integrated into the classroom.

“His testing has been exorbitant,” Kokoska said. “All of that is great if you use it.”

However, she said, “They don't use it. They don't apply it ... He needs to be creative, he needs to be kinesthetic” and hands-on, she said.

When it comes to standardized testing, Kokoska said her son becomes “hysterical.”

“It's really about self-confidence,” she said. “It's literally traumatic to him.”

Kokoska and her husband, Michael Andrews, kept their son out of school during last week's testing. He went to school at 11:45 a.m. on those days.

“I made this decision a while back,” Kokoska said.

Their situation differs from that of school board member Andrew Dousis, who kept his daughter, an eighth-grader at Flanders Elementary School, home during the testing. Dousis recently told The Times, “The CMT doesn't tell me anything about my child as a learner.”

In Kokoska's case, she believes the standardized test would have been counterproductive to her son's learning, and expressed that concern to Steve Buck, the district's interim director of special services.

“He wasn't happy about it,” she said, “but he completely understood my reasons,” and, “It's a difficult position for him to be in.”

Buck said, “I'm from a generation that engaged in quite a bit of civil disobedience,” and that there were consequences for that. He said there may or may not be in this case.

Both state and federal laws require public school students in grades 3 through 8 (and 10) to take mastery tests.

In terms of ramifications, the state Department of Education's William Congero recently told The Times that the department has not had to enforce the statute.

Buck said, “It's not my position to approve one way or another,” and that, “I support (Kokoska's) right to make a decision, and I support the fact that she's an advocate for her child.”

He said that he did explain the law, with regard to the district's obligations.

One consequence of a student not taking the CMT is that he or she scores zero.

“That indicates that the town didn't do its job in instructing the child,” he said.

A 95 percent minimum participation rate is mandated. Federal funding is contingent on schools making state-based, annual yearly progress.

Still, Buck said, “There are parents who don't approve of the testing ... our state doesn't approve of the testing,” referring implicitly to Attorney General Richard Blumenthal's No Child Left Behind lawsuit, which challenges the federal government's unfunded mandates.

Talking about her son in the context of the current educational climate, Kokoska said, “I apologize to him every single day that I send him to public school because it's just excessive.

“They want to put statistics before students,” she said.

“I happen to believe that we have fantastic educators,” Kokoska said, but that the district is playing “high-stakes bingo” for federal funding.

From kindergarten through second grade, Kokoska said her son was “barraged with expectations to achieve, without the tools to do it.

“He's not entitled to his own interpretation of reality,” she said.

— David Brensilver
Shore Publishing


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