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Education Reporter

Connecticut Mother Wins Battle
With State Education Department

Five-year struggle brings victory for parents' rights

Debra Gaudette
Debra Gaudette
EAST HARTFORD, CT - Debra Gaudette has triumphed in her long battle with the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) over the results of her daughter's Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT). On June 1, 1999, the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) agreed that the CSDE violated Mrs. Gaudette's parental rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) in denying her access to the test information.

In its investigation, the USDE found that the CMT answer booklet, answer guide, and the criteria used to score the test do fall under the definition of "education record" as contained in the FERPA statute (which was amended in 1994), because the information is directly related to students. While the USDE determined that FERPA does not require the CSDE to "show Mrs. Gaudette its answer guide or any written scoring criteria," it must honor her request to review "those questions that her daughter answered incorrectly and explain to her how this was determined."

The test was administered during the fall of 1993 when Victoria Gaudette was in 6th grade at Norris School in the East Hartford School District. The results showed that she had scored "two points below gifted," which prompted her mother to wonder what questions she had missed and how the test was scored.

"The tests may be filled with leading, privacy-invading, and even ridiculous questions," Mrs. Gaudette says, "yet the results can determine a child's future. Kids are placed in remedial classes, gifted classes, and otherwise evaluated based on these test scores, so I wanted to find out exactly what questions she'd missed."

Mrs. Gaudette says she "begged the school" to share her daugh-ter's answers, along with an explanation of which ones were wrong and why. Her request was denied. The CSDE claimed that "the CMT is not an education record under FERPA, because the test itself does not contain information directly related to students and because it has been copyrighted."

In May of 1994, the CSDE sent Mrs. Gaudette the writing prompt for the writing portion of the test (which was approved for release anyway) and a copy of her daughter's responses to the prompt. She also received the resume of an associate commissioner, details of the budget components of the 1993-94 CMT, and an analysis of the statewide 6th grade test results. Undeterred by these tactics, she filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education under FERPA in December 1995. She finally received copies of the 1993 6th grade CMT and her daughter's answer sheet in January 1996.

In reviewing the test documents, Mrs. Gaudette realized that she could not determine how her daughter's score was reached without the answer guide and the criteria used to grade the test. She wrote another letter to the CSDE in February 1996 requesting the relevant explanatory documents. Although FERPA requires that parental requests for education records be satisfactorily addressed within 45 days, the matter dragged on for five years until June 1999 when the USDE issued its findings. The CSDE was finally forced to share the test information Mrs. Gaudette had requested.

A former city councilwoman whose husband retired after 27 years as head custodian with the East Hartford School District, Debra Gaudette has been nominated for a seat on the East Hartford Board of Education. She is currently challenging a state exam given to her daughter in May of this year when the girl was in the 11th grade, and has received word that the USDE will consider her complaint.

"Some of us object to the state taking over our job as parents," she explains. The teachers are teaching to the tests, and parents have no idea what is in them. Yet we, as taxpayers, are paying the bill for all of this nonsense."

"I will continue to stand up for parental rights when it comes to the education of our children," she continues. "No one, not even the state of Connecticut, has the right to test our children in secret."

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