Yes to SBAC opt out request brings Bristol CT off the SBAC Wall of Shame

Connecticut school district reverses decision and recognizes a parents fundamental right to opt their child out of the Common Core SBAC Test!

Thanks to a courageous mother and son, Bristol’s superintendent has recognized the fundamental right of a parent to opt their child of children out of the discriminatory, unfair and inappropriate Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing scam.

Featured here at Wait, What? and on the local NBC affiliate, Christine Murphy stood up and spoke out in an effort to protect her child and children across Connecticut from the Common Core SBAC test that is intentionally designed to ensure that up to 70 percent of Connecticut’s children are deemed failures.

Governor Dannel Malloy is not only a key supporter of the Common Core and the Common Core SBAC Test but his administration cast a vote in favor of implementing SBAC pass/fail (cut-scores) at a level where the vast majority of Connecticut students will fail.

In Bristol, when Christine Murphy informed her son’s school that she was opting him out of the unfair Common Core SBAC test, local education officials – using faulty directives from Malloy’s Department of Education – told the mother that she did not have the right to remove him from having to participate in the Common Core SBAC testing scheme.

But since then, Bristol education officials have seen the light and have informed her that they will follow her directive and that her son will be exempted from the Common Core SBAC tests.

As reported in the Bristol Press,

A Bristol mother was granted the right to have her son not take the new standardized state test, even as school districts and the state want to discourage other parents from opting out.

Christine Murphy said her son, Justin Edgar-Murphy, 17, a junior at Bristol Central High School, would be at a disadvantage in taking the test because he is a special needs student with anxiety and ADHD.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment will replace the familiar paper-and-pencil CMT (Connecticut Mastery Test) and CAPT (Connecticut Academic Performance Test) with a computer adaptive test for English and math that is essentially a different test for each student taking it.

The test, commonly known as SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, for the group of states that developed it) stems from the Common Core State Standards, a national education initiative that seeks to bring the varied curricula taught in each state into alignment with each other.

As the Bristol Press goes on to explain,

On Jan. 23, Murphy sent an e-mail to Marisa Calvi-Rogers, BCHS assistant principal, stating that she wanted to “opt out” Justin from the SBAC.

Calvi-Rogers wrote back, saying that state statute mandates all students take the test. “By law, we will make all necessary arrangements and accommodations to test all of our 11th grade students. No provision has been made to ‘opt out’ of these tests,” she wrote.

However, Calvi-Rogers said Murphy could submit her request in writing outlining her specific reasons for Justin not taking the test.

But after contacting Wait, What? and getting some draft language for her response, Christine Murphy wrote back to Bristol’s school officials explaining that, as the Bristol newspaper put it,

 She is not legally required to give any specific reasons for her decision, but she cited ‘increased anxiety for Justin for a test that holds no weight or is needed to graduate’ and ‘Justin, at the age of 17, myself and his fully capable, educated teachers are aware of what his strengths and weakness are.’

According to the Bristol Press, “She asked that ‘the school provide him with a productive alternative activity during the test administrative and preparation sessions.’”

Bristol officials recently responded by informing Murphy that she can opt her son out of the Common Core SBAC test and that her son, “will be provided an alternate setting where he can work on homework or read silently while his classmates are testing…”

Murphy told the Bristol Press,

“I am so relieved that they are handling this in a very professional and legal manner.  This should be an inspiration to other parents who are told they cannot ‘opt out’ but with perseverance and using the word ‘refuse’ can make all the difference.”

The article, Son won’t have to take state test, concludes with,

[Murphy] said after doing some online research she decided she has also a problem with the test itself, which she characterized as kids are being told how to think out a problem.

“Everybody’s different,” she said. “You may think out a problem in a different way than I think it out, and we might still come to the same thing, but there’s not one way to think.”

“They try to tell you [the test] is going to find your strengths and weaknesses,” she continued. “Justin is 17 years old, he has one year left in high school. We know what his strengths are, we know what his weaknesses are. If we found something now, what are we going to do about it? Nothing.”

“So it’s totally ludicrous to waste this time and money that you are taking away from his classes, real classes to learn, to do this test,” she added.

Murphy didn’t want him to simply not show up for the SBAC because then he would be considered absent and have to make it up later.

Be sure to read the full Bristol Press article.  It is an important (and fun read) and it can found at: http://m.centralctcommunications.com/bristolpress/news/article_205a9486-b3e9-11e4-8c0e-d738a23065ed.html?mode=jqm

Sample opt out letter for Connecticut parents

Attention Parents;

The Common Core SBAC test is intentionally designed to fail as many as 70 percent of the children.  With the Common Core SBAC Testing period beginning in March and running through May, now is the time to opt your child or children out of this destructive testing program.

The most important fact for Connecticut parents and guardians to understand is that there is absolutely no federal or state law, regulation or policy that allows the State of Connecticut or a local school district to punish a child if their parent decides to opt them out of the discriminatory, unfair and inappropriate Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test.

Opt out letters should be sent to your child’s school principal.  You may also want to send a copy of your letter to your district’s superintendent of schools.

The underlying problem is that last year Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education issued a directive to all local school superintendents providing them with a step-by-step guide on how to mislead parents into believing that they did not have the right to opt their child or children out of the Common Core SBAC Test.

Although last year’s memo was an outrageous breach of professional conduct, the Malloy administration has yet to provide local school superintendents with the correct information about a parent’s fundamental right to opt their children out of the Common Core testing.

A number of local superintendents understand the law and the issues surrounding the Common Core test and are accepting opt out letters without causing a problem.

Some are initially rejecting a parent’s request with the hope that the parent will simply give up and allow their child to take the destructive test, but are then allowing a parent to opt their children out after the initial refusal.

Still other school districts are continuing to bully and intimidate parents by requesting that the parents explain why they have made the decision to opt their child or children out of the Common Core Testing scheme.

And some continue to refuse to recognize that parents have the right to simply say no to this unfair testing program.

To be absolutely clear, parents have absolutely no obligation to explain why they are taking action to protect their children…they simply need to inform their local school district that their child or children will not be taking the Common Core test and that the district need to place the child in an appropriate learning environment while the inappropriate test is being given.

Parents who want to engage their local school officials in a discussion about the appropriateness of the Common Core SBAC test can find plenty of background information here at Wait, What? and at other pro-public education websites, but any parent who wants to opt out their child or children can do so by simply informing their local school district, in writing, that their child will not to take the Common Core SBAC test and should be removed from any activities  associated with the test.

There are no magic words that need to be included in a parents opt out letter.

All it needs to be is a direct statement instructing the local school district that the child is not to be given the Common Core SBAC test or saddled with any of the other activities associated with the Common Core testing program.  The letter should also make clear that that the parent requests and is expecting that the child be provided with an alternative, educationally appropriate activity while the test activities are taking place.

The following is a sample opt out letter that parents can use or revise as they deem necessarily,

Additional model letters will be posted here and can be found via an Internet search for Common Core Test or SBAC opt out letters.

DRAFT OPT OUT LETTER

Dear Principal _____________,’

Thank you for all you do for my child, ___________ (child’s full name), and for our school.

I am writing to inform you that ________ is not to take any tests produced by or related to the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Coalition (SBAC).

Although I recognize that the language in Connecticut State Statute 10-14n mandates that students take a statewide mastery examination, I know that there is no federal or state law, regulation or policy that allows the state or local district to punish a child who does not participate in the testing program.

In fact, each year there are thousands of Connecticut public school students who do not take the mandated tests.

I am writing to request that the school district provide my child with an appropriate education related learning alternative during any Common Core SBAC testing periods or activities.

Respectfully,

______________________

Parent’s name and contact information

 

Superintendents!  Note leading Connecticut law firm’s observation on opt-out issue

As incredible and inappropriate as it seems, a number of Connecticut school superintendents continue to follow the illegal directive of the Malloy administration and are still trying to block parents from opting their children out of the unfair, discriminatory and absurd Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test or, equally as bad, are using their position to try and intimidate parents into thinking that they have lost their fundamental right to protect their children from the Common Core SBAC testing scam.

The superintendent from Ridgefield, Connecticut recently joined the Opt-Out “Wall of Shame” after issuing a misleading letter to parents.

Superintendents who attempt to block or scare parents are asking for a lawsuit against them and their Board of Education because the truth is — as it has been stated over and over again here at Wait, What?,

There is no federal or state law, regulation or policy that allows the government or local school districts to punish a parent or child who opts their child or children out of the Common Core SBAC test.

Even Pullman & Comley, one of Connecticut’s leading law firms, and the former employer of the most recent appointee to the Connecticut Supreme Court makes the issues clearer in a piece on the law firm’s website entitled, Common Core Testing Opt-Out…..Is it Legal?

While Governor Malloy, his State Department of Education and some local school superintendents continue to trot out the law proclaiming that all students must take Connecticut’s Mastery Test, Pullman & Comley explains in their February 2014 column that;

“In short, simply saying that parent opt-out is “against the law” is not dispositive, for if a law is on the books, but it does not carry any real consequences, then questions of legality become little more than abstract academic exercises.  The obvious follow-up question, then, is whether there is any other recourse available to districts to ensure students’ good-faith engagement in standardized testing?

Perhaps the answer lies in Connecticut General Statute §10-14n (e), which provides:  “No public school may require achievement of a satisfactory score on a mastery examination, or any subsequent retest on a component of such examination as the sole criterion of promotion or graduation.”  Notice the phrase “the sole criterion.”  Could its use imply that while a satisfactory score cannot constitute the sole criterion, it could be a “significant criterion” or a “necessary criterion” that must be satisfied in order for a student to move up a grade or graduate from high school?  At the same time, would such an approach create other, even thornier issues?

For example, if a student does not, or perhaps cannot, perform well on standardized testing, precluding promotion or graduation, what would the district’s responsibility be to these students?  Would it be in either the student’s or the district’s best interest to have a student retained in his then-current grade despite mastering – or at least showing a sufficient grasp of — the grade’s academic requirements simply because this significant or necessary criterion in determining promotion had not been met?  Similarly, what if a student were deemed ineligible to graduate solely because of a less-than-satisfactory score on a standardized test?  It is doubtful that the student’s parents would be supportive of this decision.  Additionally, what curricular or alternative educational programming would the district have to provide to this student who was now caught in a kind of academic limbo?

Of particular note are the consequences that such a policy might have for special education students, for whom school districts are responsible until they either graduate or turn 21.  Currently, the inability to establish proficiency or mastery on a standardized test does not preclude a special education student from receiving his or her diploma.  If the district implemented a policy that in significant part predicates a student’s ability to graduate upon satisfactory completion of the testing, would the student’s inability to do so require that the district continue providing educational services until he or she turned 21?  Would it provide parents with a basis for demanding that these additional years within the district’s educational jurisdiction be spent in an out-of-district placement given the district’s apparent inability to prepare the student sufficiently to satisfy this standardized-test criterion?

Most importantly, such a policy could possibly have a disparate impact upon disabled students, thereby raising concerns as to whether it was inherently discriminatory and thus illegal.

It would appear, then, that school districts ultimately have little leverage when confronted with students who have decided to opt out of Common Core standardized assessments.  Instead, they are most likely reduced to hoping that the vast majority of parents will not elect this approach on behalf of their children to standardized testing.”

As this blog has noted before, Connecticut General Statute § 10-14n (b) (1) states that, “each student enrolled in grades three to eight, inclusive, and grade ten or eleven in any public school shall annually, in March or April, take a mastery examination in reading, writing cs.”

But this law, in its basic form, has been in the Connecticut statutes for over thirty years.

Connecticut children have always been required to take the Connecticut Mastery Test, but during the past three decades tens of thousands of public school students – for various reasons – have not taken the so-called mandated mastery test.  Neither those students nor their parents were punished for the child’s failure to take the state’s Mastery Test because there is no mechanism, nor should there be, to punish a child or parent for failing to take the so-called “mastery test.”

With no legal backing to their claim, the Malloy administration and some superintendents are now attempting to claim that the new Common Core SBAC test is somehow more “mandated” than the previous “mandated” tests, but that is simply untrue since the federal laws that they cite go back more than a decade to President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind.

Even more importantly, the law “mandating” a “Mastery Test” simply does not trump a parent’s fundamental and inalienable rights under the United States Constitution and the Connecticut Constitution.

The reality is, as one Connecticut’s premier law firms so clearly states, “school districts ultimately have little leverage when confronted with students who have decided to opt out of Common Core standardized assessments.”

Governor Malloy, his Department of Education and local school superintendents need to stop telling parents they do not have the right to opt their children out of the Common Core SBAC.  Their ongoing efforts to intimidate and scare parents into thinking they have lost their right to protect their children is downright appalling.

The Common Core SBAC Testing Scheme – a program that is intentionally designed to fail 60 percent to 70 percent of all children – begins in less than a month in some Connecticut public schools.

The time is now to tell your local school system that your child will not be taking these unfair and discriminatory tests.

And if they give you a hard time, tell them it is not negotiable.

Then send the correspondence they have given you to Wait, What? ([email protected]) so that we can post the information and make sure that the public knows which local education officials are refusing to stand on the side of students, parents and teacher and have decided to hook their professional conduct to the Corporate Education Reform Industry’s agenda.

You can find the full post by Pullman & Comley at: Common Core Testing Opt-Out…..Is it Legal?

Legislative Champions starting to step forward in Connecticut

In response to the growing public concern about the Common Core, the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing scheme, and the inappropriate and unfair use of standardized test scores when evaluating Connecticut’s public school teachers, a growing number of state representatives and state senators are stepping forward and introducing legislation that would stop, or at least slow down, the damaging Corporate Education Reform Industry’s agenda that is undermining public education in Connecticut.

Congratulations are in order for every one of these elected officials since, in virtually every situation, their legislative proposals are challenging the policies that have been promoted by Governor Dannel Malloy and his pro-education reform administration.

It is interesting to note that most of these important bills have been proposed by Republican members of the Connecticut General Assembly, but an increasing number of Democratic legislators are standing up and speaking out in favor of Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers and public schools.

Special credit goes out to State Representative Melissa Ziobron, who represents the 34th House District which includes East Hampton, East Haddam, and a part of Colchester.

Representative Ziobron, who is in her second term, has become one of the most outspoken proponents of public education.

As a former member of a Board of Education she witnessed the growing negative consequences of the “No Child Left Behind Act” and the “Race to the Top Initiative,” especially in the standardized testing nightmare that is now driving public education in the country.

As a parent and legislator, she used her first term to study the real issues associated with the Common Core, its testing system and the impact of unfunded mandates on public education.

While recognizing that public education continues to face major challenges and problems that must be addressed, Representative Ziobron has become an advocate for parents who wish to opt their children out of the Common Core tests and for policies that support, not undermine, the role of parents, teachers, and local citizens in how their local schools should be run.

As for legislation now before the General Assembly, the following is an initial list of pro-public education bills that have been introduced so far this session.

A review of the list of sponsors highlights the fact that more and more legislators are responding to the demand that legislative action is needed to protect and support our public schools.

This list of bills will be updated as additional pieces of legislation are identified.  Readers can learn more about these bills and identify when action on them is taking place by going to the Connecticut General Assembly’s bill-tracking website:  http://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/menu/cgasearches.asp

 

Proposed legislation on the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) System;

HB 5398 – AN ACT CONCERNING PARENTAL OPT OUT OF STATE-WIDE EXAMINATIONS FOR STUDENTS; Purpose: To allow the parent or guardian of a student to opt their child out of taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Sponsor: Rep. Ziobron,

HB 6422 – AN ACT REPEALING THE REQUIREMENT THAT STUDENTS IN GRADE ELEVEN TAKE THE SMARTER BALANCED ASSESSMENTS; Purpose: To repeal the requirement that students in grade eleven take the Smarter Balanced Assessments. Sponsors: Rep. Ziobron, Rep. Kokoruda,

 

Proposed legislation to slow down or push back against the Common Core;

HB 5137 – AN ACT CONCERNING THE CREATION OF A DATABASE TO COLLECT INFORMATION RELATING TO COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS IMPLEMENTATION; Purpose: To create a database to track funds being used to implement the common core state standards. Sponsor: Rep. Ziobron

HB 5680 – AN ACT CONCERNING A STUDY EVALUATING THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THE COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS.  Purpose: To conduct a study of the effectiveness of the Common Core State Standards to help policymakers evaluate whether and to what extent the Common Core State Standards are working or should be modified.   Sponsors: Rep. MacLachlan, Rep. Carney

SB 785 – AN ACT CONCERNING REVISIONS TO THE COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS CURRICULUM. Purpose: To allow for necessary changes to the Common Core State Standards.  Sponsors: Sen. Markley

SB 344 – AN ACT CONCERNING THE PHASE IN OF THE COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS AND SMARTER BALANCED ASSESSMENT; Purpose: To phase in the common core state standards and Smarter Balanced assessments in the public schools.  Sponsors: Sen. Boucher

HB 5544 – AN ACT CONCERNING THE PROVISION OF CURRICULUM MATERIALS RELATING TO THE COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS TO SCHOOL DISTRICTS AND TEACHERS. HB 5544 Purpose: To support school districts and teachers by supplying them with materials necessary to teach the Common Core State Standards. Sponsors: Rep. Yaccarino

 

Proposed legislation to protect student data from the Common Core Testing Companies

SB 786 – AN ACT PROHIBITING THE DISCLOSURE OF PERSONALLY IDENTIFIABLE STUDENT INFORMATION. Purpose: To prevent the disclosure of student information. Sponsor: Sen. Markley

Proposed legislation requiring an appropriate teacher evaluation program THAT DOES NOT INAPPROPRIATELY utilize standardized test scores.

HB 5400 – AN ACT CONCERNING THE PROHIBITION OF THE USE OF STUDENT MASTERY TEST RESULTS IN TEACHER PERFORMANCE EVALUATIONS. Purpose: To prohibit the use of students’ mastery test results in an individual teacher’s performance evaluation.     Sponsor: Rep. Ziobron

HB 5138 – AN ACT PROHIBITING THE USE OF STUDENT MASTERY TEST RESULTS IN TEACHER PERFORMANCE EVALUATIONS. Purpose: To prohibit the use of students’ mastery test results in an individual teacher’s performance evaluation.      Sponsors: Rep. Srinivasan, Sen. Witkos

HB 5681 -AN ACT REPEALING THE REQUIREMENT THAT TEACHER PERFORMANCE EVALUATIONS INCLUDE STUDENT MASTERY TEST RESULTS; Purpose: To uncouple students’ test results on the Smarter Balanced Assessment from a teacher’s performance evaluation. Sponsors: Rep. Candelora, Rep. Fritz

HB 5987 – AN ACT CONCERNING THE EXCLUSION OF CERTAIN ELL STUDENT TEST SCORES AS PART OF TEACHER PERFORMANCE EVALUATIONS AND SCHOOL DISTRICT PERFORMANCE MEASURES. Purpose: To limit the use of certain ELL student performance data in teacher performance evaluations and school district performance measures.    Sponsors: Rep. Candelaria, Sen. Boucher, Rep. Johnson, S. 049

Proposed legislation holding Charter Schools accountable:

HB 6003 – AN ACT CONCERNING A MORATORIUM ON NEW CHARTER SCHOOLS AND A REVIEW OF EXISTING CHARTER SCHOOLS.  Purpose: To place a moratorium on the approval of new charter schools by the Commissioner of Education require the Department of Education to conduct a review of existing charter schools. Sponsors Rep. Vargas, Rep. Gonzalez, Rep. Johnson, et. al.

HB 6532 – AN ACT CONCERNING CHARTER SCHOOL TRANSPARENCY, ACCOUNTABILITY AND PERFORMANCE. Purpose:  To improve charter school transparency, accountability and performance. Sponsor: Rep Rojas

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