Parents Unable to Opt Kids Out of State Testing

Local mother weighs in on academic challenges her son faces

Parents who oppose Common Core standards want to opt their children out of taking Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, an exam that gauges how well students are learning the new standards, but state officials say that isn't an option.

Christine Murphy is one of those parents. She spends most of her day making sure her 17-year-old son Justin understands his school work, knowing he faces different challenges than most kids his age because he suffers from ADHD and an anxiety disorder.

"I thought, 'I'm going to research [the SBAC test] a little bit more and I did," said Murphy. "And I saw that throughout the nation, other parents are opting their student out of taking the SBAC."

But when Murphy brought her concerns to her son's school administrators, they told her state and federal mandates don't give parents the option.

The Connecticut State Department of Education clarified in the following statement:

"These laws do not provide a provision for parents to 'opt-out' their children from taking state tests. These mandates have been in effect for many years and the State Department of Education, as well as all public schools, must comply."

But Justin worries the length of the test and the stress that comes with it will do more harm than good, which is understandable, according to Connecticut Council for Education Reform Director Jeffrey Villar.

"That's very typical for children with attention deficit disorder," he said.

Villar added that students like Justin who struggle with exams can ask for modifications to help level the playing field.

"So they might need a longer period of time to take a test than the average peer," said Villar.

Other modifications include a larger font for visually impaired students, or a translation for those still learning English. Above all, Villar stresses that the SBAC test won't affect things like college admissions or high school grades.

"What it is, is a good indicator of where you're strong and where you need to improve," said Villar, "which is good for all of us to know as we seek to maximize our own personal learning."

Still, Murphy isn't sold.

"At eleventh grade, I think we pretty much know what our child's strengths and weaknesses are," she said.

Despite the fact that parents can't opt children out of state tests, the state Department of Education said it's looking at ways to reduce the testing burden on eleventh-graders by combining the SBAC with a school-day SAT, since 80 percent of students in Connecticut already take the SAT.

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