Mirror, mirror on the wall, what's
the smartest state of all?
Thou, O Connecticut, art the smartest
in the land.
In the 2004-05 school year, for example, fourth-graders who took
the Connecticut Mastery Test scored highest in the nation in writing,
tied for highest in reading and placed second in mathematics.
Connecticut is so taken with its own
smartness that state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal filed a
lawsuit in U.S. District Court contending that years of CMT success
should relieve the state from complying with key provisions of the
No Child Left Behind Act.
Connecticut also has what is perhaps
the largest achievement disparity in the nation between white English-speaking
students and their low-income black and Hispanic counterparts -
precisely what the act was created to close.
To that end, No Child requires that
states test students from grades 3 to 8 every year and once in grades
10 through 12 in math, reading or language arts. It requires testing
non-English-speaking students after their first year in the school
system and demands that special education students be tested at
The federal government has given Connecticut
$718,987,461 in extra Title I cash (money earmarked for poor kids)
since 2002 to meet the terms of No Child Left Behind.
In early 2005, as the deadline time
for the latest implementations of tests was approaching, state Education
Commissioner Betty Sternberg began asking U.S. Secretary of Education
Margaret Spellings to waive them, saying they were expensive and
Offering standardized tests in grades
4, 6, 8 and 10 has proved so successful, Sternberg maintained, that
Connecticut doesn't need to provide them in grades 3, 5 and 7. It
can get by on "formative" testing, meaning a quiz every
few weeks. English-language learners should be phased in to testing
over three years, Sternberg asserted. And special education students
should be tested at instructional level, which is almost always
much lower than grade level.
Spellings understandably denied the
waivers because the state couldn't demonstrate that its solution
- essentially doing nothing new - was going to close the achievement
But she offered Sternberg a decent
compromise: Connecticut could retain its precious title as the Center
of the Smartness Universe, save a few bucks and maybe even save
a few kids, if it tests students who speak limited English in their
native languages and administers multiple-choice questions for grades
3, 5 and 7.
Sternberg would have none of it. Testing
in native languages is still too expensive and multiple-choice questions
are beneath Connecticut's dignity.
Spellings understandably reaffirmed
her denials, and Blumenthal sued her. His lawsuit makes a convoluted
claim that by exercising her authority, Spellings saddled Connecticut
with a multimillion-dollar unfunded mandate, prohibited in one clause
of No Child Left Behind.
That clause, however, is open to interpretation,
and Blumenthal's reading conflicts with more explicit language elsewhere
in the law.
What the lawsuit tiptoes around is
Connecticut's horrendous achievement gap. Sternberg tried to put
a positive spin on this glaring detail when she stated in this newspaper
that Connecticut's black and Hispanic students score about the same
or better than their counterparts in most other states. It's just
that Connecticut's white students score so well, she explained,
that they make the blacks and Hispanics look dumber than they are.
Unfortunately, No Child Left Behind
doesn't give credit for having smarter dummies. It gives credit
for having fewer.
For Connecticut to claim it supports
the goals of No Child Left Behind as it clings to practices that
undermine those objectives is sheer hypocrisy.
The NAACP, in asking court permission
to intervene on Spellings' behalf, said it best: "Connecticut's
action in bringing this lawsuit is analogous to a polluter claiming
to support the Clean Water Act while petitioning for the ability
to dump hazardous waste in to the Connecticut River."
If this lawsuit ever goes to trial,
Connecticut will have perpetrated a masterful triumph of unmitigated
arrogance over merit.
David Medina is an editorial writer
at The Courant.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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