Opt Out FACT – SBAC test will be unfairly used in Connecticut’s teacher-evaluation process

As more and more parents understand, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) Testing program unfairly discriminates against poor students, students who aren’t fluent in the English language and students who require special education services.  It serves no useful purpose in today’s classrooms and certainly should not be used as a “high-stakes” test and punish program.

To make matters worse, as part of Governor Dannel Malloy’s “education reform” initiative, the SBAC test will be used as part of Connecticut’s teacher evaluation system despite the fact that the test is developmentally inappropriate for many students and fails to adequately measure what is really being taught in Connecticut’s classrooms.

As Teacher Development Specialist, Kate Field, explained in a an April 2016 CT Mirror article,

Even the best standardized test is unable to measure the sizable domain of knowledge acquired over a year of study, and contains only a small sample of questions. Selection bias may unintentionally skew the sample of test items, which could result in some students scoring lower than others, not necessarily because they know less, but because they did not understand the way a question was worded.

Standardized tests also do a poor job of measuring important skills like creative problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaboration. Standardized tests tend, to varying degrees, to be culturally and linguistically biased against English language learners and students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Field added,

Using SBAC [to evaluate teachers] undermines the integrity of teacher evaluation, because the test was not designed to measure teacher effectiveness. In addition, once a test becomes high stakes, teachers and administrators may feel pressured to sacrifice valuable learning time to teach test-taking strategies, and narrow their instruction to focus on the small sample of questions likely to appear on the test.

The truth is that the SBAC is a colossal waste of time and scarce resources and it should be dropped as a vehicle to label and punish students, teachers and public schools.

While Connecticut’s policymakers should simply do away with this terrible testing scheme, the best way for parents to have an immediate impact is to refuse to allow their child to be part of this unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory testing system.

Opting one’s children out of the SBAC test not only protects those students from the negative aspects of the testing program but it sends a powerful message to the state’s elected and appointed officials that parents will not stand idly by as the SBAC testing scam is used to undermine public education in Connecticut.

For a more about opting out including a draft opt out letter go to: Parents – Just say NO to the 2017 SBAC Testing Scheme

Parents – Just say NO to the 2017 SBAC Testing Scheme

SBAC  testing will begin soon in Connecticut’s schools.

FACT:  Parents have a fundamental and inalienable right to REFUSE to have their children take the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test – Period, End of Story.

Do not be bullied into believing that you have lost your right to protect your children from the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory “test and punish” SBAC testing system.

When considering the refusal (opt-out) issue it is critically important that parents understand that there is no federal or state law that eliminates a parent’s right to refuse to allow their children to take the SBAC test.

While there are federal and state laws that direct states and school districts to try and achieve a 95 percent participation rate for the standardized tests, the State Department of Education’s own instruction on the matter makes the truth clear.

In a February 29, 2016 PowerPoint presentation entitled “Improving Participation Rates on State Assessments,” the Connecticut State Department of Education states;

There are no penalties for students and families for not participating, however, there may be unintended consequences that have an effect on students and families in the school district

As to these consequences, the Connecticut the State Department of Education has informed districts that they will take action if a school district falls below 90 percent two years in a row.  However, no district has ever lost funds due to a high opt out rate.

And in New York, where opt out rates exceed 25 percent of all students, no district has ever lost money or been punished due to its failure to get students to take the unfair tests.

So remember, while federal law continues to “expect” participation rates of greater than 95%, there is no legal requirement – what-so-ever – that any individual student must take the SBAC test.

The following is a template letter that parents may want to use when opting their children out of the SBAC test:

Student:           _________________________          School: ___________________________

Teacher:          _________________________          Grade: ____________________________

Date:  ___________________________

Dear ____________________,

We are writing today to formally inform the district of our decision to refuse to allow our child __________________, to participate in the 2017 Connecticut Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test for grades 3-8

Our refusal should in no way reflect on the teachers, administration, or school board. This was not an easy decision for us, but we feel that we have no other choice. We simply see these tests as harmful, expensive, and a waste of time and valuable resources.

We refuse to allow any data to be used for purposes other than the individual teacher’s own formative or cumulative assessment. We are opposed to assessments whose data is used to determine school ranking, teacher effectiveness, or any other purpose other than for the individual classroom teacher’s own use to improve his or her instruction.

We believe in and trust our highly qualified and dedicated teachers and administrators. We believe in the high quality of teaching and learning that occur in our child’s school. We hope our efforts will be understood in the context in which they are intended: to support the quality of instruction promoted by the school, and to advocate for what is best for all children. Our schools will not suffer when these tests are finally gone, they will flourish.

We do apologize in advance for the inconvenience or scrutiny that this decision may cause the administration, the school, and staff.

Sincerely,

Steps to opting your child out of the SBAC test: 

STEP 1:  SEND A TEST REFUSAL/Opt-Out LETTER TO YOUR CHILD’S TEACHER AND PRINCIPAL

STEP 2: THE SCHOOL WILL USUALLY RESPOND WITH A LETTER STATING THERE IS NO PROVISION TO ‘OPT OUT’ OF CONNECTICUT’S SBAC EXAM. This is true, but the lack of a provision specifically providing for an opt-out does not negate the fact that parents have a fundamental right to refuse to have their children participate in the test.

In Connecticut, thousands of students were opted out of the testing in 2015 and 2016.  In New York, over 230,000 students refused to participate in that state’s annual standardized testing program.

If you’re being told that opting out isn’t an option, you’re being lied to.

STEP 3:  SEND FOLLOW UP LETTER AS NECESSARY 
Depending on the response you receive from your school district, you may need to reiterate your decision.  Opting your child out – that is refusing to allow them to participate – is your fundamental right.  The school district can make it difficult or bully you but they do not have the right to prevent you from protecting your children from this testing scheme.

STEP 4: CLARIFY TEST DAY ARRANGEMENTS WITH THE SCHOOL PRINCIPAL AND TEACHER.  PREPARE YOUR CHILD Depending on your school’s policy/procedure, prepare your child for what will happen on test day.  Be certain to keep in touch with your child’s teacher so that details are worked out in advance.

And remember – you have the right to instruct your school district that you want your child removed to a safe area during the testing periods where they can do school work or read a book.

The official SBAC requirements specifically dictate that only students taking the test may be in the testing room.  The SBAC manual states;

Students who are not being tested, unauthorized staff, or other adults must not be in the room where a test is being administered.

Connecticut Comprehensive Assessment Program Test Coordinator’s Manual For Summative Testing 2016–2017 Published January 3, 2017

Please share your questions, concerns or experience via [email protected]

Time to protect your children by opting them out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory SBAC testing scheme

We are once again coming up on the time of year that Connecticut public school students will be told to stop learning and start testing.

Students in grades 3-8 and high school juniors will have their time and attention diverted from instructional activities in order to prepare for and take the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC) test and the SAT.

These tests are useless and unscientific.  They fail to provide teachers and parents with any usable information about how to improve teaching or  student’s academic performance in relation to what is actually being taught in Connecticut’s classrooms.

Equally disturbing, these unfair and discriminatory tests are being used to categorize, rank and punish students, teachers and public schools.

As Wendy Lecker explained her in her recent piece, Failed common core SBAC/SAT tests punish students by Wendy Lecker,

Neither the SBAC nor the SAT is valid to measure student “growth.”

Administrators overwhelmingly agree that the SBAC and SAT are not user-friendly for students with disabilities or English Language Learners.

They are a worthless measure of how students are doing with what is actually taught in Connecticut classrooms.

And most troubling of all, the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test is literally designed to fail many Connecticut’s children.

As academic studies have clearly proven, although standardized tests are fraught with discriminatory elements, the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) was at least intended – more or less – to measure how Connecticut’s children were doing on the curriculum that was being taught in Connecticut’s schools.

On the other hand, the SBAC test is aligned to the Common Core, a set of developmentally inappropriate standards created by the corporate education reform industry and forced upon the states by those who seek to privatize our schools and turn our classrooms into little more than testing factories and profit centers for the massive testing industry.

Costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, the SBAC test is worse than a colossal waste of time and money because it is being used in an underhanded attempt to tell students, especially those who utilize special education services, those who need help learning the English language and those who come from poor households that they are failures.

Connecticut’s children deserve much better…

And Connecticut’s parents can have a profound impact on this situation by telling their child’s teacher and principal that their son or daughter will not be participating in this year’s SBAC testing farce nor will they be allowed to waste their time in the SBAC preparation lessons.

Now is the time to do what is right for Connecticut’s children….Opt them out of the Common Core testing scam.

A simple letter to your child’s teacher and principal refusing to allow your child to participate in the SBAC tests is the best way to stand up for Connecticut’s public school students.

Failed common core SBAC/SAT tests punish students by Wendy Lecker

In a weekend commentary piece in the Stamford Advocate entitled, Failed common core tests punish students, education advocate Wendy Lecker writes,

Across the country, states are re-examining their embrace of the hastily implemented common core tests. Membership in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) has dwindled from 31 to 14 states. West Virginia is the latest state to consider dropping the test for all grades.

Last year, Connecticut convened a committee to review Connecticut’s standardized tests, the SBAC and SAT. However, the committee’s final report ignored serious validity problems and concluded Connecticut should plow ahead with these expensive and questionable standardized tests.

Connecticut’s teachers’ unions, CEA and AFT, dissented from this report, because these committee members did their homework. Their enlightening minority report is based on an examination of the evidence on the SBAC, as well as surveys of teachers, administrators, parents and students conducted across Connecticut.

The minority report highlights the evidence ignored by the Mastery Committee. It notes that experts across the country admit that computer adaptive tests such as the SBAC are “in their infancy” and their validity cannot yet be established. Compounding the validity problems is the inconsistency in computer skills among different populations in Connecticut, with poor kids at a particular disadvantage; and the inconsistency in devices used. Shockingly, the minority report emphasizes Connecticut has not proven alignment between the SBAC and our state standards. There is also no evidence that the SBAC is valid to measure student “growth.”

Administrators overwhelmingly agree that the SBAC is not user-friendly for students with disabilities or English Language Learners.

The SBAC is a bust. But, though recent federal law allows Connecticut to explore other types of assessments, Connecticut remains wedded to the SBAC.

The Mastery Committee report itself reveals the problems with the SAT. The technical report on which the committee relied to “prove” validity for use in Connecticut does not mention Connecticut once. It is worthless for determining the validity of the SAT as Connecticut’s high school accountability test. Moreover, the report the committee cited to show alignment between the SAT and Connecticut high school standards revealed only a 71-percent match to Connecticut English standards, with entire categories having no strong alignment or none whatsoever. Math had an abysmal 43 percent strong alignment between the SAT and Connecticut Standards. We know what would be in 100-alignment: a teacher’s end-of-year test and what students learned in that class. And since a high school GPA is a much stronger predictor of college success than the SAT, Connecticut would do well to explore high school tests that match what students actually learn.

But instead the Mastery Committee recommends blind adherence to the SAT.

Continuing these invalid tests comes at a steep price. As the minority report noted, 90 percent of teachers stated that testing and test prep has resulted in lost learning time and restricted access to computer labs. The impact is particularly devastating in our poorest districts. A majority of districts reported technical problems during testing, again with poorest districts suffering the most.

Contrary to Connecticut’s goals, these tests drive instruction, especially in poor schools. Disadvantaged districts are most vulnerable to sanctions such as school or district takeover based on poor test results. Thus, they have resorted to interim computerized tests for test prep. Children in Bridgeport and other districts suffer through multiple administrations of i-Ready tests and/or MAP tests, and prep for these tests. They lose additional weeks of learning time. Some of these districts have direct pressure from the state to use these tests, as their Alliance District funding depends on student improvement on these measures.

Yet, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins, there is a complete “lack of a research base on i-Ready and MAP as means for improving student learning” which they find “both surprising and disappointing given their widespread use as well as their cost.”

These same districts are deprived of proven interventions that actually help students learn. For example, the judge in the CCJEF school funding case found a lack of reading and math intervention staff throughout the CCJEF districts, as well as shortages of space, time and supplies for reading and math intervention. While districts cannot afford to provide real help for kids, they are forced to spend money and time on invalid measures of student performance.

It has been three years since Connecticut implemented the SBAC and there is still no evidence that it is valid. And Connecticut implemented the SAT knowing it was invalid for use as an accountability test. As long as our leaders keep failing to learn this expensive lesson, our neediest children will continue to pay the price.

This commentary pieces was first published in the Stamford Advocate.  You can read and comment on it at http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Failed-common-core-tests-punish-10906971.php

When you ask the wrong questions, you can’t possibly get the right answers. (By Ann P. Cronin)

The Mastery Examination Task Force, whose report about student assessment in our public schools is due to come out soon, has asked all the wrong questions. We, therefore, can’t have any confidence in the findings of the Task Force.

Questions that the Task Force never asked are:

  • Are the tests that we now use, the SBAC and the SAT, reliable, valid, and fair?
  • What kind of learning do we want to measure and why?
  • How can we assess students so that the assessment itself is a learning experience for them?

The first question is a meat-and-potatoes no brainer. If the SBAC and the SAT lack reliability, validity, or fairness, we shouldn’t keep spending time and money on junk.

The second and third questions tell us about the quality of the education we are giving to our students here in Connecticut.

A fourth question is: Why didn’t the Mastery Examination Task Force ask Questions 1, 2, and 3?

For an answer to that question, see Mastery exam task force report due soon — its findings ‘predetermined’ by John Bestor, written by veteran Connecticut educator, Jack Bestor, and first published in CT Mirror where it can also be read at . http://ctviewpoints.org/2017/01/04/mastery-exam-task-force-report-due-soon-its-findings-predetermined/

You can read Ann Cronin’s blog at: https://reallearningct.com/

Two critical education issues for the Connecticut legislature By Anne Manusky

Education advocate Anne Manusky weighs in in two extremely important issues that the Connecticut General Assembly should address this legislative session.  Her commentary piece originally appeared in the CT Mirror.  You can read and comment on the column at: http://ctviewpoints.org/2017/01/10/two-critical-education-issues-for-the-connecticut-legislature/

Two critical education issues for the Connecticut legislature By Anne Manusky

From my perspective we have two critical points in the current Connecticut education crisis that must be dealt with first during the General Assembly’s 2017 session: One, the Common Core State Standards – they are developmentally inappropriate for many of our children, especially those in the elementary years. And Two: Measuring our children using the new state mastery test, which lacks psychometric test validation and reliability.

It takes time for children to reach certain levels of development  (i.e. vision development is not typically fully acquired until between the age of 8 and 10; and a child’s first baby tooth will typically fall out about the age of 6 or 7). Years of child development theorists’ research,  seem to have been thrown aside when children’s education standards were proposed to be redrawn by the National Governor’s Association (NGA) and Council of Chief State School Officers.

Why this “education” without allowing for typical development? Pushing children to mentally do things they are incapable of is a form of child abuse.  The Connecticut Core Standards are in need of major overhaul and return to developmental appropriateness.

As for measuring academic progress, the Smarter Balanced Assessments are purported to use the Connecticut Core Standards to determine academic mastery levels of our public school children.  So where would factual information be on the analysis of the Smarter Balanced Assessments for Connecticut?

I submitted a freedom of information request in March, 2016, to Commissioner Dianna Wentzel and the State Department of Education for documentation of the validity and reliability of the Smarter Balanced Assessments, as well as for the facts behind Commissioner Wentzel’s statement in a Hartford paper on the “…deep psychometric study…” done to remove a portion of the test to reduce test time.

Staff of the SDE provided Smarter Balanced Field Test materials from 2013, yet did not provide validity or reliability of the Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBA) for Connecticut.   Assistant Attorney General Ralph Urban for Commissioner Wentzel and the State Department of Education said at the FOIA hearing they “can’t prove the existence of a negative” and “they don’t exist.”  How did Commissioner Wentzel and her staff make any valid decisions on this without this psychometric testing of the SBA for Connecticut?

The financial cost of this “test?”  It is in the neighborhood of $21 million over three years in Smarter Balanced testing and data collection through the American Institutes for Research.

This is a worrisome concern.  White papers such as Dr. Mary Byrne’s  regarding the validity of the Smarter Balanced Assessments  for Missouri, and the 100 California Education Researchers study (2016) provide details of what is missing to make the Smarter Balanced Assessments valid tests. This information was provided to Commissioner Wentzel, the SDE and the SBE, without response.

Connecticut’s General Assembly, especially the Education Committee, has very serious issues besetting it come this session — the future of our children’s public education.

Connecticut is obligated to its childrens’ public education and to provide developmentally appropriate, valid, and reliable academic testing.  Public education is not an enumerated right of the federal government, as provided in Article 10 of the U.S. Constitution.  Also, the fact the Smarter Balanced Consortium is an interstate compact which was never approved by Congress is another troubling point.

The “work” of the State Department of Education and the State Board of Education bring a great deal into question.

It is time for our state to return to local school district control and have parents and residents involved in education. Cut the CT Core Standards and fraudulent Smarter Balanced tests, which our state cannot afford financially or ethically.

Mastery exam task force report due soon — its findings ‘predetermined’ by John Bestor

John Bestor, an educator and education advocate, recently wrote a piece for the CT Mirror educating readers about the farce called the Mastery Exam Tax Force.  The following is his commentary piece which you can read and comment on at: http://ctviewpoints.org/2017/01/04/mastery-exam-task-force-report-due-soon-its-findings-predetermined/

Mastery exam task force report due soon — its findings ‘predetermined’

In a few days the Mastery Examination Task Force will be submitting its Final Report and Recommendations to the Connecticut Legislature’s Education Committee which had asked for a study of student assessment practices in our public schools. Having monitored the progress of this task force during its one-and-a-half years of meetings, I contend that their findings were predetermined at or even before the task force began its deliberations.

My reasons for this presumption lie in 1) the composition of committee membership serving on the task force, 2) the choice of topics discussed, and 3) the available evidence that was purposefully withheld from task force consideration.

Just why is the final report and recommendations of the mastery examination task force so important?

For starters, it is a perfect example of much of what is wrong in government today and certainly in how education policy is developed in our state. As the 2015 legislative session drew to a close, the Education Committee of the legislature passed Public Act 15-238, An Act Concerning Student Assessments. It was stipulated that “the committee must study various aspects of Connecticut’s mastery test system” and report back to the Education Committee.

Our legislators responded to persistent parent and teacher concerns surrounding the efficacy of statewide student testing that had resulted in increased opting-out across our state as it had in many states across the country. As reported in the CT Mirror, the co-chairs of the Education Committee called for, in Sen. Gayle Slossberg’s words: “The group established by this legislation will look at a number of factors including age appropriateness of the exam and how much time it is taking students and report back to the legislature.”

Rep. Andy Fleischmann echoed her concerns, saying: “We are hearing that children are spending days and days with the SBAC exam. We have to find out if it’s a good exam in terms of its impact on students and teachers.”

Unfortunately, the very design of the Task Force itself doomed this committee from the start, since the Education Committee stipulated that specific education stakeholder groups would be represented on the task force. As a result, the same group of “education reform” advocates found themselves — once again — on an influential committee that was tasked with determining the future course of what student testing in our state would look like for years to come.

The Mastery Examination Task Force was comprised of four members from the State Department of Education including the Commissioner herself as chair, two representatives from the State Board of Education, two from the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, two from the CT Association of Public School Superintendents, two from the CT Association of Schools (which oversees The Principal’s Center), three from the CT Parent Teacher Association, and two chosen at-large by the Commissioner: the Executive Director of the CT Council for Education Reform and a Southern Connecticut State University professor with a math/technology background. Another appointed education leader who joined the task force after it had started represented the State Board of Regents for Higher Education. And, four representatives from the two professional teacher organizations were included on the task force.

By my calculation, task force members predisposed to maintaining (with some minor tweaks) the current statewide student assessment protocol outnumbered the teacher representatives, 18 to four.

S0, what are some of the initial concerns associated with statewide test practices that parents and teachers brought to their legislators?

Many had expressed concern:

  • That testing was taking valuable instruction time away from students.
  • That young children were sitting for days taking high pressure tests that were not developmentally appropriate or meaningful in student learning.
  • That students were feeling stressed out over multiple days of high-stakes testing.
  • That daily school routines were disrupted by test prep, schedule changes for all students to ensure computer availability, and additional days of make-up testing for those who were absent.

Are the tests even sound? Controversies over validity, reliability, fairness, discriminatory practices have been made by critics of these statewide assessment protocols. Without consideration of all sides of this controversial test debate, the Mastery Examination Task Force has failed its mission and simply continues to fuel the many parents who refuse to allow their children to participate in these unproven statewide assessment practices.

Nowhere in the minutes of Task Force meetings is their evidence that the committee even acknowledged any findings that were contrary to its predetermined course. Although fully aware of Dr. Mary Byrne’s 2015 report to the Missouri legislature, entitled “Issues and Recommendations for Resolution of the General Assembly Regarding Validity and Reliability of the Smarter Balanced Assessments Scheduled for Missouri in Spring 2015”, SDE leadership of this Task Force failed to consider or review its revealing and compelling arguments.

Early in her report, Dr. Byrne writes: “No independent empirical evidence of technical adequacy is available to establish external validity and reliability of the SBAC computer-adaptive assessment system. Test scores derived from tests that have no demonstrated technical adequacy are useless data points, and plans to collect evidence of validity and reliability provide no assurance that technical adequacy will be established.” Appendix B of her report contains 18-pages that outline “Steps To Generate Evidence That Test Items Are Valid And Reliable.” Based on her research, Dr. Byrne had recommended that Missouri withdraw from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (which they subsequently did).

The Task Force also failed to review and discuss the research findings of over 100 California researchers who published “Research Brief #1” in February 2016, entitled “Common Core State Standards Assessments in California: Concerns and Recommendations.”

Writing as CARE-ED [California Alliance of Researchers for Equity in Education], these highly-regarded education research professionals confirmed what many others had been saying. “Testing experts have raised significant concerns about all (SBAC, PARCC, Pearson) assessments, including the lack of basic principles of sound science, such as construct validity, research-based cut scores, computer-adaptability, inter-related reliability, and most basic of all, independent verification of validity. Here in California, the SBAC assessments have been carefully examined by independent examiners of the test content who concluded that they lack validity, reliability, and fairness, and should not be administered, much less be considered a basis for high-stakes decision making.”

The waiver granted to the state that allowed the administration of the Statewide SAT to 11th grade students had been applauded by the CSDE as a worthy adjustment. But, just as they had ignored the revelations of SBAC critics, the Task Force refused to acknowledge or consider Manuel Alfaro’s series of posts in May and June, 2016.

As a former executive director of assessment design and development at The College Board, Alfaro raised serious concerns about the rushed and faulty psychometric development of the redesigned SAT. In his May 17 post, he stated that, despite public claims of transparency, “public documents, such as the Test Specifications for the Redesigned SAT contain crucial statements and claims that are fabrications.”

In a later post (5.26.16),  Alfaro reported that The College Board’s own Content Advisory Committee expressed concerns about “Item Quality,” “Development Schedule,” and “Development Process” which went unaddressed by College Board executives. Part Six (9.21.16) in a series of revealing reports by Renee Dudley in Reuters Investigates further reinforced many of Alfaro’s allegations and concerns as related to the redesigned SAT’s built-in unfairness to the neediest students taking the test.

To the best of my knowledge, this evidence — though readily available on the Internet — has not been considered or reviewed by this Task Force. For a group of educators and stakeholders promoting “rigorous” and “higher critical thinking skills” from our students, many of the Task Force members have been remarkably complicit in their acceptance of whatever agenda direction and sharing of information that SDE officials put forth.

These allegations deserve acknowledgement and review if there will be any expectation that the final recommendations from this Task Force are valued and accepted by the many parents who refuse to allow their children’s reading and math skills to be measured by these still unproven and controversial assessments. It is no surprise that only14 of the 32 states that had originally committed to SBAC continue to administer this flawed test.

One issue always left out of the assessment conversation is the historic role of testing in sustaining a discriminatory message that further promulgates ideas of inferiority, eugenics, and racial bigotry. Former President Bush’s catchy rhetoric of “soft bigotry of low expectations” belies the hard evidence associated with assessments in discriminatory practices across our country.

Continued reliance on the current statewide testing protocols only serves as a “rank and sort” mechanism that devalues our diversity, undercuts our essential humanity, and plagues our state and nation. The use of flawed test results to force school closures and encourage the proliferation of privately-run, publicly-funded charter schools is an outright disgrace.

Under whatever name you call it: “turnaround schools,” “Commissioner’s Network,” or “schools of choice,” the bottom line is that citizens in the communities designated as under-performing based on these inadequately-developed and unproven tests have been stripped of their civil rights.

As hard-pressed, economically-challenged communities are starved of financial resources, the ability of citizens to control the education destiny of their local schools is being systematically taken away from their duly elected public servants. It is imperative that Connecticut legislators no longer tolerate inadequately studied and one-sided committee recommendations, like the forthcoming Mastery Examination Task Force report, and stop colluding in the failed “corporate education reform” takeover of public education in our state.

What is the purpose of the State-sponsored Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) “Mastery” Test?

The Common Core SBAC testing scheme is the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory annual testing system mandated by Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration.

Designed to fail a vast share of Connecticut’s students, the SBAC test is aligned to the Common Core, rather than what is actually taught in Connecticut’s classrooms.

If Governor Malloy and his allies in the corporate Education reform industry get their way, the SBAC test will continue to be used to rate and rank order students, teachers and schools.  For them, it is a mechanism to ensure students, and teachers are deemed to be failures, thereby paving the way to turn even more Connecticut public schools over to privately owned, but publicly funded charter school companies and others that seek to profit off the privatization of public education.

With the Connecticut legislature’s approval, the Malloy administration has been busy turning Connecticut’s public schools into little more than testing factories and profit centers for private entities, many of which have become some of Malloy’s biggest campaign donors.

One of the areas that remains unresolved is how the SBAC testing scam will be used in Connecticut’s teacher evaluation process.  Malloy and his ilk want to require that the results of the unfair tests be used as a key tool in determining how well teachers are doing in the classroom.

Teachers, their unions and public school advocates recognize that there are much better teacher evaluation models that could be used and don’t rely on the use of standardized tests to determine which teachers are succeeding, which teachers need additional training and which individuals should be removed from the classroom.

As the CT Mirror reported earlier this week in an article entitled, Grading teachers: Tempers flare over use of student test scores;

In 2010, state legislators created the PEAC (Performance Evaluation Advisory Council), to come up with guidelines for evaluating teachers. In January 2012, the panel agreed to have nearly one-quarter of a teachers’ rating linked to the state exam scores.

Consensus then vanished, however, after the governor proposed linking the new evaluations to teacher certification and pay, and union leaders grew wary that the tests were becoming too high stakes. Complicating the issue further was the rollout of a controversial new state exam that engendered even more skepticism among union officials and many teachers about using the tests for evaluations.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that the SBAC test is NOT an appropriate tool to evaluate teachers, the Malloy administration remains committed to implementing their policy of failure.

The controversy has meant that the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) has been unable to come to a consensus on how to proceed with the implementation of Malloy’s teacher evaluation plan.

As a way to move the debate forward, the Connecticut Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers tried, unsuccessfully, to use this week’s PEAC meeting to push the group to, at the very least, define what purpose of Connecticut’s so-called Mastery Testing system.

In a recent CEA blog post, the union explained that at the meeting CEA’s Executive Director told the group,

“The threshold question is, ‘What is the role of the mastery test?’ I hold that it’s to give a 50,000-foot view that can inform resource allocation, curriculum alignment, professional development, and instructional strategies at the district level, at the building level, or even the classroom level.”

Adding,

“That is where we gain knowledge about things like social justice, about fiscal or community needs…

The President of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, concurred saying that the tests

“were never designed to evaluate teachers,” adding, “If we return to that, we’re going to return to teachers teaching to the test, because their jobs depend on it.”

The CEA and AFT leadership are absolutely right on this one.

SBAC is an “inappropriate tool for evaluating teachers.”

As mentioned, there are plenty of teacher evaluation models that the state could and should be using.

Rather than maintaining their war on Connecticut’s children, teachers and schools, Connecticut’s elected and appointed officials should dump Malloy’s proposed teacher evaluation program and shift to one that is fair, efficient and effective.

With Election Day close at hand, candidates for the Connecticut State Senate and Connecticut House of Representatives should be making it clear that if elected on November 8th they’ll shift gears and actually do what is right for Connecticut’s students, teachers and public schools.

Opting out of testing in Connecticut — now a civic duty by Drew Michael McWeeney

Drew Michael McWeeney is an Early Childhood Education major and teacher candidate at Southern Connecticut State University.  His powerful commentary piece first appeared in the CTMirror.  You can read and comment on it at: http://ctviewpoints.org/2016/10/13/opinion-drew-michael-mcweeney/

Opting out of testing in Connecticut — now a civic duty

Since implementation of the new teacher evaluation system by Gov. Dannel Malloy and the legislature, I have believed opting out of standardized testing was a student right. I now see it as a civic responsibility.

Under the current system, 45 percent of a teacher’s evaluation is based on student test scores. According to a 2014 Brookings Institute study, however, teachers can elect not to be evaluated on the scores if a significant number of students do not show up to take their standardized tests. This is because having too few test takers can cause the test data to produce false results, labeling a teachers’ classes either high- or low-performing incorrectly.

What Malloy and the legislature did was a direct attack on public education under the guise of raising standards. Because of this, here is the narrative the system creates: Since students are failing tests, teachers must be poor performers. Therefore since public school teachers are poor performers, let us close down public education and privatize public schools.

Having observed countless Connecticut classrooms, I can tell you that basing almost half of a teacher’s rating on student test scores is too much in the first place. Then, when Gov. Malloy makes it impossible for us teacher candidates and teachers to present other evidence to establish our effectiveness — by eliminating lesson plans from consideration, for example — he compounds the problem.

Finally, researchers at the University of Connecticut’s NEAG School of Education, in a study released last year, reported that only 58 percent of teachers surveyed felt the rating they received from the state’s new evaluation system was accurate. Of the 533 teachers surveyed, more than half found no added value in the time they spent on their evaluations.

With these and other problems, the teacher evaluation system is a catastrophe. Although our state tried addressing many shortcomings through customization, it is the highly-destructive effects of accountability reform that teachers must resist. I insist – must resist.

Yes, teachers need to be evaluated. I would expect nothing less in any job. It is even more critical, especially in fields such as education, when a teacher receives job protection under union contract. It costs school districts hundreds to thousands of dollars to both hire and retain teachers. You want to protect your community investment.

Now, I understand teachers have to follow their district evaluation plan or they could be fired for insubordination. However, what is interesting is that the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, formerly known as No Child Left Behind and now called Every Student Succeeds Act, does not require that teachers be evaluated by student test scores. That was what Race to the Top required in order for states to be eligible to apply for Race to the Top money; so states incorporated student test scores in their teacher evaluation process.

Is it time for the fight to end? No. This is only the beginning. We need to fight this war on common sense. We need to fight the war Connecticut and other states, such as New York, have declared on public education by supporting a better, fairer, evaluation system for teachers. Before we demand better comprehensive education reform, we must shout battle cries of “Opt-Out.”

We need these evaluations to fail if we want public school teachers to succeed.

Inside school funding “victory,” CT Judge apparently seeks to set special education services back 40 years

As the evidence makes clear … the State of Connecticut fails to provide most of its cities and towns with adequate school funding.

Now, in an important but flawed legal ruling, the judicial branch of government is finally making it clear that the state’s unwillingness to deal with this significant problem violates Connecticut law.

Yesterday, September 7, 2016, a Connecticut state judge agreed with a coalition of towns, parents and public school advocates that the actual mechanism by which Connecticut distributes school aid is unconstitutional because it fails to provide poorer communities with adequate resources that are required by the Connecticut constitution. The judge’s proposed remedy, however, was limited (More coming on that front).

While the decision is an important milestone on the school funding issue, Judge Thomas Moukawsher’s Memorandum of Decision is nothing short of absurd, ill-conceived and simply  wrong when it comes to Connecticut’s special education programs, the state’s illogical teacher evaluation system and the state’s over-reliance on the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC and SAT testing schemes.

In his ruling, Moukawsher actually suggests that students should face even more standardized testing in Connecticut’s classrooms.

And of greatest concern is his unwarranted, outrageous and mean-spirited attack on special education services in Connecticut’s schools.

The truth is that Connecticut has actually been a leader when it comes to providing special education services to those who need extra help in the classroom.  While issues certainly exist when it comes to adequately identifying and providing services to those students who have special needs, the underlying problem is not that students get special education services, but that Connecticut’s cities and towns are left with an unfair share of the burden when it comes to financing those extra educational activities.

In Connecticut, there has been widespread consensus that society and the state have an obligation to ensure that every child is provided with the knowledge, skills and opportunities to live more fulfilling lives and that includes children with special needs.

Yet in an stunning diatribe, Judge Moukawsher appears to suggest that Connecticut retreat from that commitment.

Moukawsher writes;

“Yet school officials never consider the possibility that the education appropriate for some students may be extremely limited because they are too profoundly disabled to get any benefit from an elementary or secondary school education….It is about whether schools can decide in an education plan for a covered child that the child has a minimal or no chance for education, and therefore the school should not make expensive, extensive, and ultimately proforma efforts..

To suggest that Connecticut public schools do not have an obligation to serve, as best they can, every student is to suggest policymakers retreat from the most basic rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States and that of the State of Connecticut, as well as, from federal law and regulations that apply to those who need extra services.

In today’s world, a policy that seeks to define any children as unteachable is repugnant.

One can only hope that the judge, in his haste to issue a ruling, misspoke or misunderstood his fundamental role in ensuring that the state continue to meet its duty to all of Connecticut’s children, their parents and the broader society.

To reiterate, when it comes to Connecticut’s special education programs, the problem is not that services are provided, but that the state is failing to fully reimburse school districts for those costs.

As a society we must recognize our commitment to every public school student.  Stepping back from that commitment is simply not acceptable.

To read the Judge’s entire Memorandum of Decision go to; https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3100630-School-Funding-Decision.html

More media coverage of the ruling can be found at:

Judge strikes down state education aid choices as ‘irrational’  (CT Mirror)

Ruling may end ‘hold harmless’ principle in CT budget politics (CT Mirror)

Judge Orders State To Make Sweeping Changes To Education Funding, Policies (CT Newsjunkie)

Court Orders Far-Reaching Reforms for Public Schools (Hartford Courant)

Judge says state’s school funding formula is irrational  (CT Post)

Judge, Citing Inequality, Orders Connecticut to overhaul its school system (New York Times)