Op-Ed: School officials should not interfere with opting out of SBAC tests

During the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) field test period last year, then-Commissioner of Education Stefan Pryor sent a guideline to superintendents of schools instructing them to direct parents who desired to opt out of testing through a series of obstacles before granting their request.

Parents who persisted through all the steps were permitted to opt their children out. The idea was that most parents would give up and allow their children to be tested. Most did.

Op-ed submit bugThis year, after several commentators across the state noted that parents had the right to opt out of the SBAC, Connecticut interim Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzell sent a memo to superintendents stating that “These [CT] laws do not provide a provision for parents to ‘opt-out’ their children from taking state tests.” And that, “These mandates have been in effect for many years…”

Several superintendents used this memo to inform parents that they had no right to opt their children out of testing. That was wrong. Fortunately, Joseph Cirasuolo, Executive Director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents (CAPSS) has now acknowledged parental opt-out rights.

The statutes themselves are silent on parental rights. True, there is no opt-out provision, but neither is there a non-opt out provision nor any parental penalty for opting out. Additionally, many parents have opted out of testing over the life of this “mandate” without government interference.

The state may be denied Title I funding if the statewide participation rate falls below 95 percent, but no state has ever been punished in that manner. Government officials should provide citizens with facts, not misleading information designed to deprive them of their rights.

The actions of Gov. Dannel Malloy, his interim commissioner of education and many superintendents of schools in this matter are inexcusable and do violence to the basic tenet of representative democracy that governments exist to protect the rights of the people.

Enter Pearson Education and American Institutes for Research (A.I.R.), the corporations responsible for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and SBAC respectively. Already free to use their tests for the purpose of data mining thanks to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s unilateral amendment of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), these companies demand more.

They are monitoring student use of social media in order to determine what is being said about them and their tests and attempting to punish students who run afoul of their rules. That’s right; Pearson and A.I.R. are spying on school children. Wow. Are we living in the United States or North Korea? What about First Amendment Rights?

If the state board of education and local school officials support this policy, I will no longer have to refer to the Pentagon Papers case to explain prior restraint; I will merely have to read students the SBAC test rules. These rules and practices constitute a “clear and present danger” to our children.

Who knew so many Constitutional rights would have to be trampled upon in order to accommodate the corporate for-profit testing juggernaut? But data collection and tracking are more than worth the trade-off, right?

Life in the PARCC police state or under SaBAC (curiously similar to SAVAK, Iran’s secret police under the Shah) will be fine, as long as no one criticizes the regime. Sounds like totalitarianism to me.

I propose a better solution. The best and most effective way to protect the proprietary interests of these corporations, and more importantly our liberty, is to tell Pearson and A.I.R that they can keep their damned tests and opt our children out.

Additionally, I call upon Gov. Malloy, Interim Commissioner Wentzell and all Superintendents of Schools to cease and desist in the obstruction of the rights of parents to decide whether to allow their children to sit for these tests.

Martin Walsh of Wethersfield teaches U.S. History in Glastonbury and is a candidate for CEA President. 

 

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