Community opposes state testing

Speaking out: Staples Principal John Dodig speaks to an audience of educators from all across Connecticut

Ale Benjamin

Speaking out: Staples Principal John Dodig speaks to an audience of educators from all across Connecticut

Ale Benjamin and Michael Mathis

On Thursday, Nov. 21, the Bedford Middle School auditorium roared with the pleas of concerned citizens as Connecticut State Representative Gail Lavielle and Weston Schools Superintendent Colleen Palmer asked for input on recent educational legislation.

Over 150 attended, including residents from Westport, Newtown, Shelton, and other towns.

The addressed legislation encompasses the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), new teacher evaluation system, and Smarter Balance tests. The standardization creates what some called a “one size fits all” approach.

However, Palmer noted that “One size does not fit all.”

This was taken with near-unanimous agreement as speakers voiced their issues with the Common Core, which is scheduled to begin at Staples in the spring of 2015.

Desiree Galassi, an Italian teacher at Fairfield Ludlowe High School, said the testing and standards will hurt students with learning disabilities. Galassi offered the example of a struggling student of hers whose grades vastly improved, but not within the course of a year, as the new evaluations demand, thus rendering she and her students “failures.”

Many others recognized this issue. Jack Bestor, an elementary school psychologist, was particularly concerned about learning disparities in younger children. The new legislation implies all students can reach specific standards by a certain age.

“Some children enter kindergarten as readers, some don’t recognize letters and numbers,” Bestor said.

The forum was also home to argument regarding the inefficiency of standardized evaluation in already thriving school systems. Principal John Dodig of Staples High School was quick to recount his experiences with this issue.

“The head of my math department tells me he spent three hours of his time scripting data into a computer, time that he could have spent working with a teacher,” he said, adding that the math CAPT scores at Staples are among the highest in the state. “The day [the people at Staples] stop doing well is the day that the state should start taking over Westport Public Schools.

Westport Assistant Superintendent Lisabeth Comm and Math Department Chair Frank Corbo also spoke against changes in testing and evaluation.

Smarter Balance Tests have frustrated students and educators alike, some speakers said. New York state has already issued the tests, and subsequently faced community protest.

Mary Burnham, an educational consultant, was concerned with the enormous 45 percent weight that Smarter Balance Test scores can have in teacher evaluation.

Teachers’ stress is then passed down to students, Burnham said.

“Students who have participated in trial Smarter Balance Tests have been stressed to the point of tears,” she said.

While Lavielle noted that her task force still has much work to be done with mandates, she reiterated her appreciation for the people’s support. She expressed frustration with attempts at the state level to stall the task force by procrastination in filling in committee positions.

“They can hold up the task force, but they can’t hold up the public,” she said.