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Terry Dickinson and Jesse Turner (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

A group of parents and educators want the legislature to pass a bill ensuring that parents of school children have the option of pulling their kids out of required standardized testing.

Advocates calling themselves the Parent-Teacher Save Our Schools Alliance held a press conference Thursday and called upon lawmakers to pass legislation to enable parents to opt their children out of statewide standardized tests.

Terry Dickinson, an East Haddam mother, said she has pulled her son, Charles, from the town’s public school and enrolled him in a private school because of difficulties opting him out of the tests.

“Charles is a 16-year-old boy with a dream and goals for his future. He is not a test score,” she said. “For the first time in a year, he is happy now. He has teachers who are engaged. He doesn’t have to fill in bubbles anymore.”

Dickinson and others at the press conference reported attending events in Connecticut with hundreds of other parents looking for guidance on how to remove their children from the testing process.

The pushback against standardized testing comes as many of the state’s school children will be taking a new test called the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test, which is designed to assess new and controversial national education standards called the Common Core. This year school districts were given the option of taking the new test or taking the state’s traditional assessments like the Connecticut Mastery Test.

Kelly Donnelly, a spokeswoman for the state Education Department, said the law does not allow parents to opt their kids out of these assessments. She said there are state and federal requirements that children enrolled in public schools must participate in assessments at certain grades.

“These laws do not provide a provision for parents to ‘opt-out’ their children from taking state tests. These mandates have been in effect for many years and the State Department of Education, as well as all public schools, must comply,” she said.

Members of the parent-teacher organization disagreed and pointed to a December Education Department memo designed to offer school districts guidance in responding to parents who are seeking to remove their kids from a test.

The memo recommends several steps for administrators to convince parents not to pull their children from the process, beginning with referencing the state and federal laws. Eventually, if the parent insists in writing that their child will not be taking the test, the memo says the student will be counted as absent, which will hurt the district’s participation rate. But the document notes that the state has not done any follow-ups on such cases.

“There are no sanctions for opting out. That’s what we’re told,” Jesse Turner, a Central Connecticut State University professor, said. “It would be sort of like saying ‘Everybody should drive 55 [mph] but if you don’t, nothing is going to happen to you.’ We’d probably all drive 85, 90, maybe 100, I don’t know.”

With no individual consequences, some advocates are hoping parents will opt out in high numbers.

Hugh McQuaid Photo
Gloria Brown (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

“My dream is that everybody will opt out and nobody will be given a test and teachers can really get back to educating children . . . not just preparing them for a test,” Gloria Brown, a retired Wolcott teacher, said.

If that were to happen, it would put school districts in violation of a federal law that requires that 95 percent of enrolled students take the standardized tests.

Donnelly said this year’s testing period represents a “low-stakes” environment because the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test is still being “field tested” and its results won’t count for toward formal evaluations of students and teachers.

“By participating in the field test, students also provide necessary input to ensure that future tests are a fair and accurate representation of Connecticut students’ knowledge and abilities,” she said. “Overall, the experience will better prepare students, teachers and schools for future administrations of the tests — and for reaching the new, higher Common Core standards.”

Dickinson said she was concerned about that “testing the test” process and was worried about what the state planned to do with the data collected from her son’s test results.

“These are serious concerns. They’re putting this stuff into place before it’s been thought through and I’m sorry, my son is not going your guinea pig,” she said.

State Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, co-chairman of the legislature’s Education Committee, said Wednesday that local school districts were given wide latitude to decide which test to give their students this year. School districts were given a choice between the legacy Connecticut Mastery and Connecticut Academic Performance tests, and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test.

“Connecticut has a long history of local control,” Fleischmann said.

As far as the concept of standardized testing goes, Fleischmann said without it, it would be difficult to compare how one district is doing with another. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests also will help Connecticut compare its students against students in other states.

“It’s not appealing, but I think it’s necessary,” he said.

Christine Stuart contributed to this report.