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Who’s in Charge?

CEA Executive Director Mark Waxenberg.

CEA Executive Director Mark Waxenberg.

CEA Executive Director Mark Waxenberg today urged legislators not to surrender their authority to a state agency—the state Department of Education. Testifying before the legislature’s Education Committee, Waxenberg said that provisions in Senate Bill 175 concerning parents’ right to opt their children out of state testing and the implementation of a school accountability system represent problematic overreaches by the department.

Section 3 of the bill punishes districts with higher percentages of parents who choose to opt their children out of the state-wide mastery test. Waxenberg said that this state Department of Education (SDE) provision is one of a number of parental opt-out penalties that are being implemented by the SDE without any legislative consideration.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gives authority to states to develop their own parental opt-out policies. The new federal education law permits states to define student testing participation rates to avoid penalizing districts for the choices of parents to exclude their children from statewide (e.g. SBAC) testing.

“The actions of the state Department of Education represent an overreach of agency authority and a usurpation of decisions about parental rights that should be debated by this committee and the state legislature as a whole,” Waxenberg said.

Section 4 of SB 175 implements a school accountability system that ranks schools—boiling down a small handful of factors, including test scores and attendance rates, into a single number from 1 to 5.

This overly simplified rating system has already been included in the state’s federal ESEA/NCLB waiver application, submitted to the U.S. Department of Education on August 3, 2015, and approved shortly thereafter. There was no public comment period on this provision and no legislative oversight as required by state statute.

“The idea of a 1-5 or A-F rating may help customers understand how well a restaurant follows the health code, but such oversimplified ratings do not inform the public about how well schools meet the complex needs of students, families, and communities,” Waxenberg said. “In fact, such oversimplification of school quality will likely paint many successful schools as failures.”

The recent passage of ESSA allows Connecticut new opportunity to be innovative and improve its school accountability system.

“CEA knows that together we can do better and urges committee members to take a leading role, and to incorporate a more collaborative and inclusive process,” Waxenberg said.

Read Waxenberg’s testimony here.

Other CEA staff members also testified before the Education Committee today.

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