March 17, 2014

How To Opt Out of Standardized Testing in Connecticut

Parents all over Connecticut are refusing to allow their children to take the SBAC test, and the Facebook Groups are full of parents asking for advice on how to get it done. So I think it's time to gather all the resources and help parents make the decision that's right for their families, and be more confident in those decisions.

First, it's important to note that as a parent you are perfectly within your rights to refuse to let your children take this test; there is no legal consequences to you or your children by the state in doing so. In the interest of compiling all relevant information here, I quote Connecticut Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor:
On an individual level, I don't believe that there's any specific provision in law regarding consequences... To my knowledge there are no state provisions that are specific, or no federal provisions that are specific to an individual student.

Additionally, when asked whether parents could opt-out of the testing for their children, Allan Taylor, the Chairman of Connecticut's Department of Education stated:
There is no law that says they can't.

If you want to see the videos that those quotes were pulled from, you can do so here.

However, while there are no legal consequences to the children or parents, there could be financial consequences to your school district. In accepting money under No Child Left Behind, Connecticut agreed to test 95% of its children. In his testimony during the legislative hearing on March 12th, the Chairman of the State Board of Education, also said:
If a district falls below the 95% federally required level, then there may be, ultimately, financial consequences to the district, sometime down the line, but that's a long way down the line, there would be a process that would take years that would start with the federal government.

It would be federal funding that comes to the state, but it comes to the state to distribute to local districts, the money can be distributed to local districts only if they're complying with the requirements of No Child Left Behind... therefore yes, there might be, because we have to do it, a financial consequence to a district. As I said, this is several steps and much administrative procedure down the road. But it's there, it's in the law, and it binds what we do with federal money.

Whether the fact that refusing to allow your child to take the test might put your town below that 95% mark, and thereby potentially cause your town to lose federal funds, is a decision you alone have to make.

For those of you who decide to go ahead and refuse to let your children take these tests, following are the logistics of making sure the school complies with your decision. I reserve my own advice as to the best way to handle it until the very end; hopefully by the time you get to that you will already be secure in your own decisions and will simply read mine as further clarification.

Some of the advice given on Facebook says "this is what you have to do". So let's start with the fact that while you need to convey to your child's school that you refuse to let them be tested, there is no one way to get it done; some people are calling, some people are emailing, and some people even suggest sending certified letters. The choice is yours. You need to do what you are most comfortable with, and what you are most confident will get the job done. Most people on the various Facebook groups agree that it's better to have everything in writing, and if you do speak to anyone by phone or in person, that you follow up with something in writing to confirm what you discussed... "I am writing to confirm that during our conversation we discussed... please let me know if I misunderstood any of this information... if I do not hear back from you I will take it to mean that you are in agreement that this is how our conversation went..."

There is also advice from different people on who you should contact about your decision; Board of Education members, Superintendents, principals, teachers. Again, you need to do what you are most comfortable with, and what you are most confident will get the job done. Most people on the various Facebook groups seem to be going with the school principals, and the teachers.

So after you decide who to contact, and in what way you will contact them, you need to decide what you want to say. There are lots of different form letters available that you can fill out and submit. The ones most readily available are here:

  • United Opt Out National offers this one.
  • There is a website where you can plug in your town and choose which letter you want to send, and the site will email it for you. You can find that here.
  • There is also an opt-out form that is making its way around Facebook that actually has you opting out of SBAC and Common Core altogether

You will notice that most of these letters talk about your reasons for opting-out. Please make sure that if you choose a form letter that you choose one that you agree with in all of its talking points. But first, be sure that you feel you need to share your reasons at all; you are not required to tell the school why you don't want your children taking the test; you do not need to justify yourself. If you choose, you can refuse to let your children take the test without ever telling the school why. But if you do choose to tell them your reasons why, make sure they are your reasons, and not just the reasons your form letter suggests.

So you've contacted someone about your refusal. Now you can most likely expect to get this letter in return.

Do not let this letter alarm you. It's the response that districts were advised to send by the Academic Office of the State Department of Education. It is a form letter, so don't take it personally. Back in December, in response to a "greater numbers of parents desiring to remove their child(ren) from participation in the statewide testing program" they sent out suggested protocols for schools to use. Most people on the various Facebook groups are reporting that their districts are following the protocols very closely. The good news is that as the protocols tell the schools how to respond each time you say no, they also tell you that you can, and precisely what to say. So look through them, refer to them in your correspondence with the school if you'd like to, and simply continue to say "no" until the school says "OK".

Some districts, however, are responding with phone calls and threats. One Facebook post I read today says that "some districts have threatened to treat opting out as truancy, and to call in DCF for child abuse." To this, you simply need to continue to assert that you know your rights, and that it is within your rights to refuse to let your children take the test, and that the school must provide an alternate setting with alternate learning materials for them.

If districts try to tell you that you are breaking the law by not allowing your children to be tested, ask them to show you the law they are referring to; there is no law that says you can't opt-out, so that will effectively end the conversation.

It's important to note that in all cases I've seen from people sharing on Facebook, they have been, with perseverance, successful in opting out their children. So have faith that you can get the job done too. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments below.

Before I close, I would first like to state my opinion on dealing with administrators. I have mentioned in other blog posts that I have sympathy for school administrators who are stuck in the middle of this. They are having to be the "bad guys" in something they might not even agree with. And they are unfortunately the ones who have to deal with parents like me, and have to find a place to put all these kids when the time comes. It's so frustrating that the CSDE is making me counterpoint people I have always had sincere respect for. So my advice is to do your best to stay respectful towards administrators. They are our allies in our children's educations, and we don't want to alienate ourselves, or our children, from them.

That said, some districts are not behaving well toward parents to begin with. Even in these cases I suggest staying civil and not meeting these people on their low road. Be firm and respectful and get everything in writing. Then go to Jonathan Pelto's blog and share your experience with him; he will post the nonsense right there for all his readers to see; he will give your district a public calling out.

Finally, it remains my personal belief that it is not necessary to inform administrators of why you are choosing to opt-out. If I had to do it again, my refusal letters would read:
Dear Principal _____________,

I am writing to let you know that my son ________ is not to take any tests that will be graded or evaluated via computer or any source outside of his teacher who administers it. This includes SBAC assessments.

Please note that this is not a "request" and that I am already aware that "the ESEA does not allow parents to exempt their children from taking the state assessments." However, the ESEA also does not dis-allow it. Nor do Connecticut General Statutes. I am therefore perfectly within my legal rights to refuse to allow my son to take these tests.

I will be informing ________ that he is not to take online tests, and that if he is given one he is not to work on it. Please be sure to provide an area where he can read or do other work that you provide for him during the testing time. 

You can read about how I actually did opt-out my 7th grader here, and my high school junior here. In the case of my 7th grader I did not mention that this year is only to "test the test" because in his case, that is irrelevant; even if it was a real test he wouldn't be taking it, so why mention it at all? With my junior I did mention that this year the SBAC is only to "test the test" because he did his required mastery test last year and this isn't a mastery test.

Please leave comments below for anything important you feel I may have missed and that should be moved up into the body of this blog post. Or simply feel free to share your own experiences, or ask any questions you may have.

1 comment:

  1. Great break down on 'opting out'. Thanks for sharing your experience.


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