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Eye-Opening Debate

Among proverbs, the consensus is clear. Early birds get the worm. Being early to bed and to rise makes a person healthy, wealthy, and wise. But is getting up early also good for taking tests?

Connecticut lawmakers found themselves arguing that point this month as they reconsidered restrictions on when high school students can be given state tests.

At issue was a law passed last year in Connecticut that prohibits districts from giving state exams to high schoolers before 9 a.m. Sponsors of the measure pointed to research suggesting that adolescent brains simply aren’t wired to work well early in the morning.

But the rule gave many district leaders a headache. Unable to start school later because of transportation issues, they had to plan some way to keep students occupied between the time they arrived and when testing could begin. Some said the result was a logistical nightmare.

Offering some relief, the legislature this month took up an amendment to waive the rule for this year for any district that held a public forum on the issue of adolescent sleep cycles. The change passed by a vote of 35-1 in the Senate.

The House, however, voted 79- 69 to rewrite the amendment so as to scrap the time limits altogether. Leaders of the Democratic-controlled chamber then tabled the measure rather than bring it to floor vote, leaving the testing rule unchanged for now.

"It was clear that the will of the legislature was to repeal this law," complained Rep. Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., the Republican who led the effort to remove the time limits. "It underscored how important it is for local control on these matters."

Kevin B. Sullivan

But Sen. Kevin B. Sullivan, who backed last year’s law and this year’s compromise, said he’s still convinced that the likely benefits of later testing outweigh the challenges it presents. Mr. Sullivan, a Democrat who serves as the Senate’s president pro tem, has in the past proposed setting statewide controls on high school starting times in general—not just on testing days.

"Almost every aspect of school scheduling has everything to do with adults and nothing to do with kids," said Mr. Sullivan, who is also a former co-chairman of the Senate education committee.

—Jeff Archer

Vol. 23, Issue 29, Page 18

Published in Print: March 31, 2004, as State Journal

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