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State Backs Down on Standardized Testing Threats in Madison

Published March 29, 2016

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Madison schools are now in the clear after an alarming list of sanctions was put forward earlier this month by the state education commissioner in response to Madison’s low state test participation rates.

The state requires a 95 percent participation rate from districts in standardized tests like the Connecticut Mastery Test and Connecticut Academic Performance Test. Last year, Madison only had a 77 percent participation rate as many parents chose to opt out of having their students tested.

As a result, Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell informed Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice that the district was at risk of losing $90,000 in federal funding, its tier-one ranking, and the ability to access an exemption for the minimum budget requirement that allows towns to reduce educational spending if it deems it appropriate.

The move was originally seen as shocking to many Madison parents and education officials, but State Representative Noreen Kokoruda (R-101) said residents no longer need to worry.

“All that is gone,” she said. “Madison doesn’t have to worry, all of the penalties are gone. [Wentzell] withdrew it.”

While the reasoning behind the commissioner’s decision to move away from the sanctions is currently unclear, Kokoruda said members of the state legislature’s Education Committee introduced a bill designed to exempt participation rates of school districts in the mastery exam as a category in the district performance accountability index. The proposed legislation, rHB 5555, would “prohibit the inclusion of participation rates for the state-wide mastery examination in the calculation of such district’s accountability index score.” The bill was referred to the Office of Legislative Research and the Office of Fiscal Analysis on March 24, where it will be evaluated for consistency with other state laws and for what it will cost, if anything. It will then be sent back to the full legislature for consideration.

Kokoruda, a member of the legislature’s Education Committee, said the proposed bill is a positive step to protect a parent’s right to opt out.

“You can’t penalize for that,” she said. “The good news is that we are not being penalized and no district will be.”

Scarice said he was pleased that the sanctions had been dropped, but was still concerned about how the issue arose.

“My concern is more about that trend and that pattern when you are talking about withholding funds,” he said. “To have an unelected department commissioner make those kinds of decisions without the legislature weighing in—I think that is a very dangerous precedent to set.”

Scarice agreed with Kokoruda in saying that it is still a parent’s right to decide if they will have their student take the standardized test.

“You are putting the district between a rock and a hard place,” he said. “I have not had one person at any level tell me that it is illegal for a parent to say, ‘I refuse to have my child take that test.’”

Moving forward, Scarice said the district will continue to do what he called “the right work” and prepare kids for the world they will enter once they graduate.

While the threats are off the table, Kokoruda said this issue was one of the biggest topics in education this year, one that could have had a big impact on Madison, particularly as it affects the schools’ reputation. Madison’s district is ranked as tier one, the highest of five tiers.

“The way the state plays these games is amazing,” she said. “What I was most worried about was changing tiers, I think that could have really impacted our town, not being a tier-one school.”

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