As Connecticut prepares to launch a new standardized test that will be taken on computers, some parents are pushing to pull their children out of the exams.
"I'm just concerned that this hasn't been reviewed thoroughly," said Candice Cushman, who has submitted a request to Ellington educators to have her three children exempted from the test. "I'm hearing collective issues raised by teachers, legislators and parents. There are just way to many concerns and I feel it's not developmentally on point."
The new test created by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium — a group of 23 states, including Connecticut — is the linchpin in a series of education reforms whose rollout has been criticized by Republican lawmakers, teachers, and parents as botched and too fast. Testing begins March 18.
"The process or lack thereof is what's concerning me," Cushman said. "It's like this was just slipped under a rug — all of a sudden."
The changes may seem sudden for parents, but it was back in 2010 that the state Board of Education approved a new set of new set of academic goals called the Common Core State Standards.
The Smarter Balanced test is based on those new standards, but many parents didn't become aware of either until this year when schools districts began aggressively wheeling out new curriculum based on the Common Core to prepare students for the new test.
Connecticut districts had the option this year to give either the old Connecticut Mastery Test or what is called a field test" of the Smarter Balanced assessment. By law, an annual assessment must be given in certain grades and subjects.
Ninety-percent of Connecticut districts are choosing to give the Smarter Balanced field test — a much higher percentage than in most of the other consortium states. Next year, all Connecticut students will take the new test.
The parents who don't want their children to take the test most commonly say they fear the new test is not developmentally appropriate; they have concerns that young students don't have needed computer skills; and they don't want their children to be involved in "testing" the test.
When Kim Nagy-Maruschock of Portland asked to have her third-grade son opt out of the test, she said she was told "we have no wiggle room. Your child must take the test."
But when she persisted and met with school administrators, their position changed. "In the end, they explained that they understand they can't force our son to take the test and he will be allowed to read a book during the testing time," Nagy-Maruschock said.
She said she doesn't want her son to take the test because she doesn't think it's developmentally appropriate and also because she sees it as partly a test of his computer skills, which doesn't seem fair when he's only in third grade.
"I think for a child, it's a very anxiety-inducing situation to try to sit there and try to navigate on a computer on top of trying to do the math problem," she continued. "It compounds the stress."
Deborah Stevenson, an attorney who works with a group that is calling for legislation to ensure the right of parents to have their children opt out of the test, said current law does not address the issue. In addition, the law does not provide any penalties for parents – or children – who refuse the test.
The situation leads to confusion, Stevenson said, as does, she noted, a December state Department of Education memo that suggests that school officials tell parents who don't want their child tested that there is no provision for this under state and federal law.
But then, the memo says that if a parent insists that child not be tested, districts "generally" do not test the student and the student is counted as absent for purposes of testing.
"The mass confusion is coming directly from the state Department of Education. They are giving two different messages," Stevenson said.
But Kelly Donnelly, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said this month the matter should be clear: both state and federal laws require public school students to take the annual state assessment in certain grades and subjects.
Donnelly also noted that if a school or district has a participation rate that is less than 95 percent, it could lower its performance rating.