Connecticut Looks to Address High Testing Opt-Out Rates


Federal officials are wondering how education leaders in Connecticut are going to rectify a difficult situation after thousands of students in the state refused to take required statewide achievement tests in the spring.

Moninque M. Chism, the director of the agency’s Office of State Support, noted that the US Department of Education showed concern for the state after it did not meet requirements of federal law in a letter to Connecticut’s education commissioner.  Chism stated that high-quality, annual statewide assessments are important and must include all students so that information is available to education leaders to ensure that all students are able to succeed.

The state needed to send in its improvement plan to US education department earlier this month.  However, details concerning that plan were still unavailable at the start of this week.

Last year, around 11,200 students did not participate in state exams as part of the “opt out movement” that gained steam across the country.  Many parents feel too much classroom time is being used preparing for tests and taking them.

Although the participation rate for the state as a whole did meet the federal standard, the rate in a number of individual districts did not, as one-quarter of public school districts did not test at least 95% of their students, which is the minimum rate expected by the government.

Most of the decline came from high school students.  Of the 148 schools found to have too few students participate in the statewide Smarter Balanced Assessment, almost 75% were found to be high schools.

In a vote earlier this year, state lawmakers decided to change the Smarter Balanced Assessment with the SAT, which many students already take, writes Jacqueline Rabe Thomas for the CT Mirror.

Connecticut Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell received a letter from the federal government noting that the state could lose millions in funding if too few students participated in testing again.

The federal education department “has a range of enforcement actions at its disposal… The State Education Agency should demonstrate that it has taken or will take appropriate actions to enforce the requirements.”

Enforcement actions could include a cut in funding offered to school districts, a reduction in school ratings, identifying a school as being “at risk” or suggesting non-participants are non-proficient on exams.

School districts that show more than 10% of its students not participating in required statewide testing for two years in a row will lose funding and could see their performance ratings drop.

When the results of the exams were announced this year, Wentzell did not suggest how the state would consider the low participation rates or whether funding would be affected.

“We are going to work with our districts to ensure that we have similar levels of participation,” she said. “When the final analysis is done, I believe, it will be a handful, literally, of cases. We may need to issue more severe corrective actions.”

A spokesman for the department noted that the participation rate this year overall was 96%.  The only subgroup in the state that did not meet the 95% requirement was students with disabilities.