Connecticut’s SBAC testing will bring an egregious contradiction

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Dear Connecticut Senators and Representatives,

I am writing to you regarding the implementation of SBAC testing in Connecticut. I am doing so as a public school teacher and parent of young children who attend, or will attend, public schools in the state you represent.

I am fortunate to teach in a school district that, on two different occasions, required its teachers to take a practice SBAC test. While I can say that the questions were fair in light of the standards they are supposed to measure (as an English teacher, for me these are the Reading and Writing Standards of the Common Core), the technological fluency the test supposed was alarming.

In addition to being able to think complexly across disciplines, students need to manipulate a keyboard, scroll up and down lengthy text, navigate split screens, etc. While these skills may seem rudimentary, students have never before taken tests in this fashion and do not, as of today, learn this way in schools.

Teachers, then—because the results of the test will be used to evaluate their students and the districts comprised of these students — will be asked not only to teach to the test but also to teach how to take the test. Doing so will take computers, money, and time, and such time will be taken from the very classes in which students are supposed to be mastering Common Core Standards.

From an ivory tower this may seem a peculiar irony. From the commons this is an egregious contradiction.

In addition, during several professional development sessions, teachers have been told that written sections of SBAC will be scored by computers that use logarithms to assess a writer’s diction, syntax, sentence complexity, and logic. While it may be cheaper to program and monitor a host of computers to evaluate tests than to hire and train human beings to do so, we need to consider the threshold we cross when we begin to teach students how to write for a machine.

Because administrator and teacher evaluations are based on how students perform on these tests, and because these tests subsequently dictate how curriculum is delivered and assessed, teachers will be asked unquestionably to teach students how to tailor their ideas to the computer that will score them.

Teaching writing, then, and by extension critical thinking —the foundation on which we build our educational, economic, and political systems— will become very draconian, very fast. Students, consequently, will likely perceive of these skills in a limited, shortsighted way. How does such myopia help our state?

Generalizations like “efficiency,” “accountability,” and “reliability” have been used time and again to describe the benefits of standardized tests. SBAC is no different. However, before you authorize SBAC testing in Connecticut, understand what the aforementioned terms mean for the human beings— parents, teachers, and, most significantly, students—who will, day in, day out, live with the realities these terms eschew.

Peter Sagnella lives in Hamden, and has taught English for 14 years at North Haven High School.

 

 

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