Smarter Balanced test is validation for CT’s hardest-working teachers

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I respectfully disagree with the Ann Policelli Cronin’s recently published opinion, “SBAC: Failing most Connecticut children in more ways than one.”

I am currently a high school English Language Arts teacher, and I take issue when people who are no longer in the classroom teaching students each day “advise” the rest of us on what to do for kids. That’s a much bigger issue in education than the Smarter Balanced test. I take issue with administrators and consultants constantly seeking to stay relevant by disrupting the educational process in classrooms, with an approach that is long past its prime.

The truth is that our students do not measure up, and neither do many teachers, frankly. It’s a nationwide epidemic. Ms. Cronin reports that Connecticut students have some of the highest NAEP scores in the country, but she’s ignoring the real story: namely, that Connecticut is not really servicing all students equitably.

With the final days of summer upon us, I find myself thinking of my niece, who is being potty-trained, swimming in my pool. If 20 of her closest little friends come over and all have “accidents” in the pool, I’m left with a green pool by morning. But if she is alone and has a little “accident,” it’s diluted, and then chlorine in the pool keeps everybody else swimming safely. Sometimes, dilution can go a long way to hide problems.

In Connecticut, we silo the poor into urban centers and dilute national assessment scores, talking in broad generalities across various economic classes, rather than addressing specific subgroup categories. Since the pool’s diluted, it never turns green on a national assessment. However, that Connecticut has one of the worst achievement gaps in America is a well-documented fact. If our system of education is so great, wouldn’t we be able to close that gap?

Ms. Cronin writes that, “when the majority of Connecticut children are soon told that they are failures… [it’ll be] because a test was designed to fail them.”

She fails to realize that the Smarter Balanced test isn’t about “failing or passing.” It is about growing. My students have a lot of growing to do. By measuring growth over time, these tests validate Connecticut’s hardest-working teachers, working in almost impossible circumstances, and those students who overcome incredible obstacles just to attend school!

Personally, I am devastated that Connecticut will no longer have a Grade 11 Smarter Balanced assessment to show my students just how much they’ve grown at our school. Now, some phenomenal high school teachers in urban schools will be measured by this inaccurate standard of the heroic work they do every day. And some mediocre high school teachers in affluent areas will reap the rewards of being measured, not on student growth, but on the performance of students who already entered the classroom above the grade level benchmark.

I have worked in both settings, and I will tell you this: there are “bad” teachers everywhere, and “great” ones in unlikely places. The Smarter Balanced test holds us all accountable for bringing our “A game” as professionals, at all times.

We need the Common Core Standards as a guideline to work toward. For me, they work as a roadmap that takes the guesswork out of lesson planning. Now, I can focus more on my students, and I love coming to work every day.

The Common Core allows me to better help students by providing opportunities for more specific and timely feedback. The standards also contemplate a continuum of learning, which makes it easy for me to vertically team with teachers in other grade levels. The standards let me scaffold towards “on grade level” skills by planning a logical learning progression for students.

Because I’m sequentially scaffolding skills, I can target a skill area where a student struggles, and also identify where in the learning sequence the student is having difficulty. Along the way, Common Core also helps me to better communicate with families about learning expectations and strategies for supporting their students at home.

Educational equity is a civil rights issue. It is important that we succeed as a state and that work together for the betterment of all people, including those who are in oppressive socio-economic climates. The Smarter Balanced assessment may not produce the scores that parents want to see this year, but it measures sound educational goals and will allow us to monitor our students’ growth over time.

Tina Marie Manus is an English Language Arts teacher and Department Head at J.M. Wright Technical High School. She has been teaching in K-12 settings for over 16 years. She was selected as an America Achieves National Fellow, and by the CT State Department of Education as a member of the CT Dream Team (Learn Zillion). 

What do you think?

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