There is no rational explanation to support SB 175, a newly-proposed bill with the innocuous title “An Act Concerning Recommendations of the Department of Education”. There is no excuse for elected officials to take away a citizen’s right to peacefully protest and dissent. Vote NO on SB 175!

Our state legislature needs to take this opportunity to tell the Connecticut State Department of Education and Connecticut State Board of Education that:

– It will no longer support expensive mandates that unnecessarily impact local school budgets.

– It will NOT support a bill that is simply a backhanded attempt to coerce and punish parents by attacking the local education institutions on which they rely and that they generally trust.

Connecticut students are consistently among the top 5 percent in student achievement on “The Nation’s Report Card” as measured by demographic sampling of school children by the National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP] since 1969. Yet, there is no denying the persistent and troubling student achievement gap in our state.

However, years of statewide assessments have failed to significantly close that gap; in fact, as income inequality grows across the state, the student achievement gap continues, pointing out the lack of fairness and access for all Connecticut’s students to equal educational opportunities. The “test-and-punish” methodology under No Child Left Behind and Race To The Top initiatives has been an outright failure. Recognizing this, our federal legislators overwhelming passed a new bi-partisan education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, that gave decision-making authority back to the states signaling that individual states could better determine how to address their own educational needs.

The proposed SB 175 bill will be considered at public hearing before the Education Committee tomorrow, Wednesday, Feb. 24. It is complicated, convoluted in its language, and ultimately not transparent to anyone unfamiliar with legal terminology. It has been devised by the Department of Education and state board of education to give them the authority to require that all students and parents comply with state assessment practices by punishing school districts for their failure to reach the 95 percent test participation rate requirement.

With such short notice given for this public hearing, tell your legislators to vote NO on SB 175 and show respect for their constituents and move the state in a more meaningful direction.

Less than a year ago, Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell testified in favor of a bill which provided flexibility for MBR (Minimum Budget Requirements). Now, if more than 5 percent of parents refuse to have their children take the state SBAC test, SB 175 would take away that flexibility and the control that local boards of education have over their budgets.

As long as the SBAC test protocol remains mired in controversy; unavailable for verification by independent research as valid, reliable, or fair; with excessively high predetermined passing levels; based on unproven instructional standards; such contested results should never be used in determining school effectiveness. Nor should such unsubstantiated test results ever be used to rate school districts or impact how local school districts choose to allocate its funds.

Never mind that federal law only requires (in grades 3-8 and once in high school) one reading test yearly, one math test yearly, and one science test (three times total). This requirement could be essentially addressed by administering one 45-minute reading comprehension test, one 45-minute math reasoning test, and one 45-minute science test rather than immerse our students in a week-to-ten-days of expensive, unproven, computer-adaptive testing while disrupting the routines and schedules of everyone else in school not taking the tests.

The test results on a shorter “snapshot” of student achievement could, then, be put in proper perspective with more meaningful authentic measures of student learning, reflected in daily school performance, portfolio and long-term projects, report card information, graduation rate statistics, and school climate surveys. It is not necessary to go through a lengthy, prohibitively-expensive test protocol to learn which students and schools are succeeding and which students and schools are struggling to perform up to expectations.

Instead of continuing to throw millions of precious tax dollars into the proverbial, but very real, pit of failed education reforms; instead of continuing to enrich test corporations and educational entrepreneurs who game the system; instead of maintaining the false and demoralizing narrative that our students and teachers are failures, our state legislators need to take this opportunity to tell the CSDE and CSBE that it will no longer support expensive mandates that unnecessarily impact our budget health when a re-design of state assessment practices has been encouraged by recent federal legislation.

Perhaps, a proposal to join other states in withdrawing from agreements with the SBAC and PARCC test monopolies would better serve the interests of Connecticut’s students and taxpayers as we get our assessment act together. To continue supporting controversial flawed education policies that have ostensibly failed to show results is beyond reproach and needs to be discontinued.

Unfortunately, those promoting this bill cannot step back and admit the failure of their long-supported policies. They are unable to think clearly, creatively, innovatively on these issues because they seek to protect the past practices that they have so vigorously promoted and defended. They must be reined in by our elected legislators before these failed policies continue their damaging assault on public education in our state.

The solution to this problem should not result in denying parents their inalienable right to protect their children from what they might consider harmful which is what this bill does by punishing local school districts into pressuring parents to comply with state testing requirements that the education leaders refuse to change. It is simply a backhanded attempt to coerce and punish parents by attacking the local education institutions on which they rely and that they generally trust.

Once again, tell your legislators to respect their constituents and move the state in a more meaningful direction.

Tell them to VOTE NO on SB 175.

John Bestor is a recently retired school psychologist who worked for 41 years in a Connecticut public school system.

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