Letter: Sabotaging the SBAC will not help children

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To the editor,

This is in response to a letter by Natasha DiPiro that was published on Feb. 13, 2015. There was an appeal to parents in this letter to boycott the newly established CCSS SBAC assessments. I believe this to be a shortsighted mistake that will greatly hinder the educational process for our children in Region 16 and derail any kind of improvements to their learning.

It is true that our children are being educated in a much different school environment than they were in the past. I am thankful for that. This is because they are going to attend college and work in a much different world. In order to remain competitive in that world, our nation, state, and school district must analyze our strengths and weaknesses to collectively develop methods of preparing every child for a competitive global economy.

Some may see federal education legislation as oppressive and ineffective. I concede that previous and current attempts at improving our severely outdated system of education are not perfect and, in many specific cases, full of bureaucratic roadblocks. However, the fact remains that our nation’s schools have been failing to remain competitive with other countries around the world for decades. Both city and suburb, our young people are not achieving to the level of other children across the globe. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “Among 15-year-old students, 29 education systems had higher average scores than the United States in mathematics literacy, 22 had higher average scores in science literacy, and 19 had higher average scores in reading literacy, according to the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA)” (http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cnk.asp).

Even though we may think that our Connecticut schools outperform the national average, keep in mind that we finished 19th on that list in math and 16th in science as an individual state.
We cannot deny that we need massive education reform at all levels in order to remain a competitive nation and give our children a chance at great jobs in this country and abroad. The only way we will be able to chart our progress in this massive undertaking is to regularly assess the progress of our students through evaluating their knowledge and skills. If parents pull their students from testing, Region 16 will be unable to improve the quality of its education in order to bring these students to where they need to be and ensure that their younger siblings do not encounter the same deficit.

A boycott of these tests will even be a disservice to those who oppose them. If enough students do poorly on a consistent basis, Region 16 will be forced to acknowledge the negative data and restructure their attempts to meet Common Core standards. Parents on both sides need to understand that nothing will happen without reliable data.

As to the issue of students being unprepared for the format and types of questions on the test, there are resources available. Michael Yamin, Region 16’s superintendent of schools, sent home a letter with a link to the Connecticut State Department of Education’s Smarter Balanced Assessment Portal. This link provides parents with tutorials and practice tools to help prepare their children for the parameters of the test to ensure that their progress is better evaluated.

We need experimentation in education. It will be the only way we can become competitive once more on the world stage and end the inefficiencies and long expired methods of our antiquated education system. However, experimentation will undoubtedly fail without data. We must not forget that when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act into law in 1965, there were no guarantees that federal education legislation would work. There was most likely the same criticism of it’s far reaching national standards and accountability. Time has shown that law to have been integral to President Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” Education needed to change then and it needs to change now.

If I could, I would see our entire system of educating children changed from top to bottom and follow the new perspectives of visionaries like Sir Ken Robinson, but I am realistic. Education policy is politics and politics must be pragmatic. We should work with our schools to improve the system we have.

As a father of two children who will spend their formative years in the Region 16 school system, I invite parents to engage in a dialogue with our school system and participate in the changes that are taking place. Most importantly, we should not attempt to sabotage the testing process of our schools. We must do what we can to ensure that the tests reflect the best efforts of our children in order to find the best way forward for our nation’s most precious resource.

Lucien Lafreniere

Prospect