An Open Letter to Parents from a Connecticut Parent

An open letter to parents,

Over the next few weeks, children will spend countless hours taking new tests that have no meaning.  As a parent, I’ve decided that my sixth grade daughter will not be one of them.

The new test, called the SBAC in some states and PARCC in others, goes hand-in-hand with the new national Common Core State Standards that have been adopted in about 45 states.

The Common Core standards detail what some believe every child should know and when. They are more than 80% consistent with existing high standards in states like Connecticut, Massachusetts, Missouri, Washington, and others.  In many places, the adoption of high standards is not the issue of most parents and teachers’ concerns.  It’s the implementation of the Common Core that warrants serious attention.

Educators are working feverishly to rewrite curriculum, prepare new lesson plans, and shift standards in a way that is meaningful to kids.  Some standards may be inappropriate for the earlier grades and others seek to teach a 5th grader what was formerly taught to 8th graders.  Some adjustments may need to be made.  Implementing the new national standards will simply take more time than the State and U.S. departments of education have the patience to provide.

Overall the problems seem fixable over time and with some additional state-specific reviews and revisions, the standards themselves can become more reasonable.

What is unreasonable is the unyielding imposition of the related SBAC field tests when these new standards are barely underway.  Most sixth graders today will have spent barely 25% of their time in school learning the new standards; tenth graders only about 15%.  Yet the state is compelling children to take the SBAC field test on material they might not have even learned yet.  In places where results have been released, the scores have been predictably abysmal – sending a message of failure to children.  You can’t teach someone basketball and then put them on a baseball field and expect the same result.  Even Michael Jordan knows that.

What is unreasonable is for State Department of Educations’ insistence that all school children take the experimental SBAC test when the results will be meaningless.  The SBAC field test is about troubleshooting the test.  That means that the results – if when they are released – will not be valid.  Consequently, all of the time and effort spent on the test will do absolutely nothing to help children learn.

SBAC testing companies say that they require about twenty percent participation statewide to suit their “test the test” objective.  Yet states like Connecticut, which will  pay somewhere around $22-$27 per student to these testing companies, are pressuring school districts and parents to drive children’s participation rates far in excess of this need.

Shouldn’t the testing companies that are designing and profiting from these trial tests be paying the states for this benefit?  Shouldn’t parents have a right to say “no” just like we do when pharmaceutical companies want to test new drugs?

What is also unreasonable are the state education departments’ misstatements of state and federal law.  They are purposely designed to scare parents out of making choices that are in the best interest of their children. Let’s get the facts straight.  The federal law often cited by states  – the No Child Left Behind act (NCLB) – does not require students to take tests; could you imagine the national uproar if it had?  The truth is that under the threat of financial penalty, NCLB requires states to administer tests and for the tests to be available to all children – a distinction with a significant difference.  Neither state nor federal law requires parents to have their children tested and neither prohibits parents from choosing to exclude their child from testing.

State Education Departments know all this, but have decided to exceed their authority and make parents jump through hoops to exercise their rights.   As a parent, I won’t be deterred and other like-minded parents should not be either.

There are simply more beneficial things for my daughter and me to do during the multiple hours of SBAC testing. We can visit a museum or library.  Maybe we will tour the State Capital where we can observe participatory democracy and what it means to stand up for a cause.  We could stand up for ours.  You could too.  It’s your right.

Lastly, our decades-long obsession with high-stakes testing must be confronted before it does more damage on the future creativity, innovation, and critical thinking of our youth.

Sincerely,

A Connecticut Parent

  • Magister

    “Overall the problems seem fixable over time and with some additional state-specific reviews and revisions, the standards themselves can become more reasonable.”

    But that’s the thing; they CAN’T be revised because the CCSS are copyrighted!!

    Although I agree with and applaud the letter, it does not go far enough. It is not just the test or the implementation that are problems, it is the WHOLE thing – from its secretive, insular, undemocratic creation by a small cabal of non-educators to its inexorable ties with its evil conjoined twin, standardized testing.

    If 80% of the CC parallel existing state standards in CT, then what pedagogical use is it? It has no intellectually nourishing function. The CCSS is simply an Orwellian instrument designed to facilitate the very lucrative collection of big data.

    • ReTired

      Educational leaders are always trying to push teachers to reinvent the wheel. When this approach doesn’t work because after all there is just so much you can do with specific skill sets, publishers just repackage, rename, and charge a higher price! Educating children takes creativity, talented teachers and a worksheet fails to do the job effectively. You are 100% correct when you state that “80% of the CC parallel existing state standards in CT…”

    • Magister

      And those things in the CC that are unobjectionable or reasonable? Those are Things That Teachers in Stable Schools Have Always Done.

  • LutherW

    It is a tactic guaranteed to show dramatically improved scores the next time the test is given. If they had waited to do the test until after the curriculum was in place then the next test would likely show only moderate improvement. (At least that is what would be normal if the curriculum resembles teaching to the test)

  • ReTired

    Dear Connecticut Parent-Know that you are a role model and with hope more parents will emulate your courage and challenge this nightmare. Our children don’t deserve this experience as part of their school memories! I encourage you to send this letter to your local district’s board of education-if you haven’t already. Thank you.

  • guest

    Very well written, thoughtful and rational letter. You have articulated my thoughts as a parent and teacher exactly.

  • Luv2Teach

    Great letter, will share it far and wide. Suggest all do the same. PLEASE tell me school districts are not paying the testing industry per student for this test-of-the-test!?!

    • Guest

      The state is paying a lot of money for this. For nothing to gain, except $$$ saved by not providing CMT. Besides, this in not “test of test”. It is “test of bunch of questions” for for-profit companies.m

  • Jim

    Dear “Connecticut Parent”. I want to applaud your courage, candor and eloquence in articulating what parents and educators across the state have experienced regarding the CCSS and SBAC testing. As an educator I have posed similar frustrations to our legislators, union representatives and educational leadership to no avail. You are absolutely correct in stating that while the CCSS are not all that different than the original Connecticut standards that the bar has been raised considerably for children, especially those in the lower grades. Standards are important and need to be challenging. No one is questioning that. However, standards need to be realistic and developmentally appropriate, which many of the CCSS are not. So therefore the question on everyone’s minds is that if the original standards were challenging and developmentally appropriate then why are states across the nation foisting an ill-conceived set of standards that were not developed or even vetted by trained educators? Moreover, as you stated, most of our state’s children have not even been adequately prepared to perform well on the SBAC test? Unfortunately, the answer has less to do with enhancing learning and more to do with demonstrating that our public schools are failing our children. What Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and governors across the country want to show the voting public is that corporate reform and privatization of our schools is the answer to the achievement gap between children living in urban and suburban districts, as well as between the US and the rest of the world. As I mentioned in my last Wait What? essay-Arrogance, Ignorance and the Myth of the “High Stakes Test, the education “industry” represents a $500 billion a year revenue source for Big Businesses. Aside from selling more computers (Chromebooks) software and SBAC test analysis ($22-$27 per student), new CCSS aligned textbooks, workshops for educators etc. the money to be made lies in turning over public schools to charter schools, which use public funds, in many cases to turn a profit. Charter schools pay their teachers far less than public schools because they are non-unionized. In fact, you don’t even need teaching credentials to teach in a charter school. While some charter schools perform a little better than the public schools most are no better or even worse than those in the public sector. Moreover, charter schools can select the students they admit while public schools cannot. So with all of the above in mind why is our Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, so insistent about pushing the SBAC upon our children in such a hasty manner? Could it be possible that his charter school management company , Achievement First, might stand to benefit when the SBAC results come in showing an abysmal performance even amongst children in our suburban districts? Might it be more than coincidental that Pryor recently requested $35 million more from the legislature to fund new charter schools? I may be cynical but it does appear that there is a conflict of interest here. If I am correct than the most ethical decision for Commissioner Pryor to do would be to recuse himself and disallow his management company from starting up any more charter schools in Connecticut (Achievement First already has several schools in CT).

    • R.L.

      I agree that standards are important. I also believe that our old standards were very good. However, standards mean nothing as long as social promotion remains a prevalent policy within our school districts. I have numerous students in my 9th grade class who never passed a class in 8th grade. Until remediation is addressed in an honest manner, no standards of any kind will have relavevance.

      • Jim

        Indeed. This means that administrators have to follow through with the recommendations of their teachers’ assessments of students ability to move on to the next grade. The problem is that many administrators cannot stand up to parental pressure to pass their children. The real problem is going to occur next year when colleges and universities stop offering remedial courses to incoming students. Presently, anywhere between 40-50% of entering college freshman require remedial courses in order to enter degree programs. We don’t do anyone any favors by socially promoting students who are not competent in the knowledge and skills requisite to move to the next level. Moreover, until people recognize that college MAY not be the answer for every student then we will continue to see a large number of students dropping out of college but only after accruing an enormous debt! Many of these kids would do better going to a trade school or even working for a few years before deciding themselves if college is for them.

  • Guest

    If the standards are over 80% consistent with CT’s former standards, then why are only 25% being implemented in grade 6 and only 15% in high school? Smarter Balanced is not a testing company, it is a consortium of states. It has exactly 11 staff (http://www.smarterbalanced.org/about/smarter-balanced-staff/), and relies heavily on state members to do the heavy lifting (http://www.smarterbalanced.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Work-Group-Members.pdf). As a parent and educator, I can share in the frustration of my children taking too many tests in a given year — I think that it is highly unnecessary. I am even glad that despite the amount of misinformation being freely shared on the web about CCSS and Smarter Balanced, at least more people than ever are talking about education. Having taught high school math under the former standards, I am downright frightened by any suggestion that the state could return to them.

    • Laurie

      Actually, the open source code for the SBAC is developed by Pearson, a large for profit textbook and curriculum corporation. They not only develop the curriculum for CCSS (and there are revisions being purchased by districts all over the country), but also profit from the assessment of these standards. In addition, Pearson also owns Connections k-12 online academy. Isn’t there a conflict of interest somewhere here?

  • Rob Persons

    Why is there more and more testing with higher and higher stakes? The answer: Follow the money.