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Connecticut parents seek guarantee they can opt students out of standardized tests

Susan Notes:


I echo the reader comment. Kudos to Jesse Turner. May other professors be inspired to step forward and break their silence.

Reader Comment:Great work, Jesse Turner! I hope more and more parents get on board and insist that their child does not participate in these "mandated state/federal assessments. As a recently retired public school administrator, I can attest to the pressures that this constant barrage of test preparation and assessments places upon our students and teachers. There is very little joy and love for learning and teaching. Stop the madness!


By Rachel Chinapen

NEW HAVEN -- A child is more than a test score.

That's the message Terri Dickinson delivered in a press conference at the Capitol Thursday, and the same message she delivered to administrators when she pulled her youngest child out of East Haddam Schools.

Dickinson and other members of the Parent-Teacher "Save our Schools" Alliance traveled to Hartford to urge legislators to guarantee parents the right to opt their children out of standardized testing.

"We demand that parents be given the right to opt out of state testing they feel is harmful to their children," said Jesse Turner, director of the Central Connecticut State University Literacy Center. "We demand a legislative agenda that addresses the concerns of children and parents. We believe parents should be given the choice."

The opt-out movement has gained speed across the nation, particularly in places such as New York and Seattle where parent and educator-led protests for "less testing, more teaching" gained media attention. Turner said the movement in Connecticut started last year and is growing, but he believes the state Department of Education has caused "misinformation, confusion and intimidation."

In December, the department sent memos to districts on how to handle parents who seek to "opt out" their children. The document contains four requests parents might make and three responses the district should offer. It notes there are "minimal" exceptions, such as being "medically exempt," to the rule all students be tested.

The memo, a copy of which was given to the New Haven Register, says that upon a parent's fourth request, the district is advised: "In these cases, the district generally does not test the student and the student is counted as "absent" (for purposes of testing), which negatively impacts the participation rate for the district."

However, department spokeswoman Kelly Donnelly, in a written statement, disputed this information.

"Both state and federal laws require public school students to take annual state assessments in certain grades and subjects," department spokeswoman Kelly Donnelly said in a written statement. "These laws do not provide a provision for parents to 'opt-out' their children from taking state tests. These mandates have been in effect for many years and the State Department of Education, as well as all public schools, must comply."

Education law attorney Deborah Stevenson said while there is no statute that says parents can "opt out," there also is no statute that prohibits it.

"So the law is silent," she said. "I think the state Department of Education is taking the stance that you tell the parents no they cannot opt out. If they persist, however, then you can let them opt out and just consider the child absent for purposes of testing."

Donnelly has previously said the tests are crucial to providing snapshots of academic achievement among students and schools.

Opponents have spoken of the stress the tests place on children and teaching to the tests, among other things.

Dickinson said she pulled her son out of East Haddam because of the "forced testing" and lack of accommodations. She said her husband's family has lived in the area for more than 50 years, with many generations of his family graduating from the district. She originally hoped to watch her son graduate from the same school.

"As a parent, when your child comes to you crying and begs you to find a school to teach him and not just test him, your heart breaks," Dickinson said. "You would walk through fire to find him to do that."

Retired teacher Gloria Brown said she would like to see teachers "feel free" to tell parents about the option to opt out.

"Many teachers won't do this because they fear repercussions," Brown said.

The alliance set forth a legislative agenda Thursday:

- Give parents the unquestionable right to opt their child out of statewide standardized mastery tests.

- Create a Common Core review committee that includes parents and educational experts.

-Establish legislative authority to mend or end implementation of Common Core national standards.

-Extend the moratorium on linking statewide test scores to teacher evaluations until more information is available to determine the suitability of using test scores for such purposes.

- Create an independent panel of educators, teacher evaluation specialists and testing experts to conduct a review of use of mastery test scores in teacher evaluations.

The group suggested state lawmakers adopt what they called "Ethan's Law," a Florida bill filed after 11-year-old Ethan Rediske died soon after a publicized battle between his mother and the state over a requirement for him to take standardized tests despite being blind and having brain damage, as well as cerebral palsy.

"The fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children is paramount and must be respected," Stevenson wrote in her testimony. "If a parent believes something is detrimental to their child, they have the obligation to protect their child from harm. If this is not being understood, then making it clear in statuary form, indeed, may be necessary."

"My dream is that everybody will opt out and nobody will be given a test, and teachers can really get back to educating children in a way that is good for them," Brown said.

— Rachel Chinapen
New Haven Register

http://www.nhregister.com/social-affairs/20140227/connecticut-parents-seek-guarantee-they-can-opt-students-out-of-standardized-tests


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