Shortly thereafter I received a note from the school telling me that the kids would be taking the OLSAT exams. I immediately wrote a letter to my son's principal, his teachers, and the Curriculum Coordinator, who I had already been in touch with. It read:
To the wonderful teachers and administrators of my dear son _______,
I am writing to let you know that I am opting-out of _______'s participation of the OLSAT this week. I had previously been in contact with [Curriculum Coordinator] regarding my concerns with having any test data on ________ (including actual test taking) recorded via computer, since the changes to the FERPA laws make it impossible for anyone in Cheshire to assure me with utmost certainty that his personally identifiable information is secure. Deb did tell me that as soon as the district lawyer provides her report, in layman's terms, of what the changes in FERPA mean for the district, that she would share that report with me. But until that time, ______ is not to take any tests via computer, or take any tests that will be graded or evaluated via computer or any source outside of his teacher who administers it.
I will be informing ________ that he is not to take the test, 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.
I then received this response from the Curriculum Coordinator:
I want to make sure you know that the OLSAT test is not administered on the computer. It is a test Cheshire pays fit and uses. It is not a state requirement nor is it a statewide test. I also need to remind you that all of our assessment results data, teacher tests included, are stored on our servers
I wrote a long response to her, and actually posted it here (opens in new window) for others to read. I didn't include my last paragraph to her on that blogpost though, which read:
Finally, please note that this letter speaks only to the privacy issue in regards to my children, and does not speak to my opposition to the inordinate amount of assessments being conducted in compliance with the Common Core that Connecticut is not even required to adopt since we did not receive any money through Race to the Top, and Cheshire is not required to adopt since we are a locally controlled state when it comes to education; that is a whole other letter.
The Curriculum Coordinator wrote back:
Thanks for your reply. To clarify, Cheshire's does not share OLSAT, SRI, or Triumph data with other districts, the state, or the federal government.
We do share student attendance and special education data with the state.
In addition, the state gives us their state tests to administer to students. In these situations the CSDE has access to their own tests and its data, whether whether they are administered by paper or online.
To which I responded:
Thanks. So am I understanding that Cheshire does not store the results of the OLSAT, SRI, or Triumph testing on our servers? That it's all kept in paper files that the state does not have access to?
What about my son's IEP? That was created during our PPT [meeting] directly into a computer program, so does that reside on Cheshire servers too? Or is that stored in paper files that the state has no access to?
As I said, nothing would make me happier than to be proven wrong on all of this.
The Curriculum Coordinator wrote back:
The OLSAT results are stored on the Pearson server and on our district server. The SRI results are stored only on our district server. Triumph scores are stored on the Triumph server and on our district server. None of the data from these three tests are shared with the state or federal government.
IEPs are stored on our districts server. Whether or not they are also stored on the vendor's server as well as the state's server is a question answered best by Tracey Nolan-Hussey, the secondary special education supervisor.
That email was received on December 1, 2013, and I did not reply.
I next received an email from Deb on December 11th that said:
We heard back from the district’s attorney about the two questions you asked regarding student assessments earlier this fall. Your first question related to FERPA regulations and your second question asked about student participation is state, district, and classroom tests.
The first aspect of the lawyer’s research confirmed what you already knew; there have been changes to the FERPA legislation. Her research also revealed the specifics of this change. Under the new FERPA amendment, an educational agency (such as the Cheshire Public Schools) now has the authority to disclose student information to the federal government if such a disclosure is in relation to an evaluation or audit of a federally funded program. To date, Cheshire has never had an audit by the federal government and our only federally funded, curriculum-related program is at Darcey.
Your second question related to parents’ ability to refuse participation in some or all student assessments. The lawyer’s research reveals that there is no federal or state law that gives parents the right to “opt-out” of some or all assessments, either paper-pencil or computer generated/stored assessments. For students enrolled in a public school, the courts have held that school districts maintain control over the curriculum, and this includes testing and assessment. Although parents have the right to opt-out of certain aspects of the curriculum, e.g. dissecting and sex education, this right does not extend to assessment.
I hope her diligent work addresses your questions
To which I responded:
Thanks so much for getting back to me with clarification that my concerns regarding the privacy of my children are warranted.
As for my “question related to parents’ ability to refuse participation in some or all student assessments”, I never had a question about this. While it is true that “there is no federal or state law that gives parents the right to “opt-out” of some or all assessments”, there is also no federal or state law specifically saying that I can’t.
It’s actually very timely that your response would come the day after the CEA published a blog post entitled More CT Parents Opting-Out of State Testing, which contains a link to a document entitled Background, History, and Suggested Protocols for Addressing Parent Requests for Students to ‘Opt-Out’ of Mandated State Testing dated December 2013 from the SEA. The last protocol states that when a “Parent writes back to the district a letter explaining that they have read and understood the district’s letter, but insist that the child not be tested… the district generally does not test the student and the student is counted as ‘absent’ (for purposes of testing), which negatively impacts the participation rate for the district. The state, to date, has not done any follow-up on these cases.” So since I’m aware of all the rest, in the case of my children, we can just skip it all and go right to that: please consider this my letter stating that I understand your letter, and I insist that my kids not be tested.
Just to confirm, my children are both old enough to understand that they are not to take the tests, and will not do so even if put in front of them, my 7th grader because he prefers not to go back to homeschooling, and my high school junior because he fully comprehends the issues.
Please understand that I am truly grateful for the top-notch education my children are getting in Cheshire and I know they would do fine on the tests if I allowed them to participate; my concerns lie in the undermining of the privacy laws for our children, the increased data collecting on them, and the increasing federal intrusion on our local school system through various reforms and waivers imposed upon, and accepted at, the state level.
The last one I received from the Curriculum Coordinator read:
Thanks for your email. State regulations do require that the principals follow the protocol, so they will.
A few days later I went to a PTA meeting at the middle school. After the meeting the principal pulled me aside and told me that he had been forwarded all that communication but he was not going to go through with all the protocol. His main concern was what he was going to do with all the kids who are opting out since they are increasing in numbers.
So that takes care of my 7th grader. I'll blog about my experience with the high school junior starting tomorrow.
I do want to mention though, that I have problems with the form letters that are out there, my biggest one being the statement:
Moreover, the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC) are merely field tests, this year, which measure test questions, not students; and do not even have a mastery level set yet. Thus they are not the type of required tests contemplated by state law.
This is, in my opinion, NOT a good thing to include, whether it be true or not, because it leaves the door open for testing next year. Especially when the next section says:
As the Parent/Guardian of____________________________________ (Name of child), I have decided that it is not in his/her best interest to take this year’s Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Field Test (SBAC)."
Why would we say "this year's"? The idea is to get a statement in about our feelings on the testing for this year and every year moving forward. So if I needed to do it again, I would write:
Dear Principal _____________,If there's one thing that I learned about schools while we were homeschooling, it's that I don't have to tell them my reasons for the decisions I make regarding my children. So I wouldn't include any of that in my letter to the principal. And yes, I'd send it to the principal and not the superintendent, since it has already been my experience that they don't always agree on opting-out and the superintendent could very well be bypassed altogether.
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.
Questions? Ask away...