SBAC test scores raise questions about equity in schools

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The release of the state’s Smarter Balanced (SBAC) test scores sparked a new version of an old conversation. The SBAC scores reveal much of what we already know about public education in Connecticut: children living in high-income and high-resource communities posted above average scores while children living in our poorest towns and cities posted lower scores. Understanding these scores can help districts identify schools and students who may need greater support to meet rigorous standards; at the same time, the scores raise questions about the equity of intrastate resource distribution and the impact on relative student opportunity.

Before the release of the SBAC scores, we knew that our public schools are greatly unequal when it comes to important evidence-based school resources. According to our research published earlier this year, children living in towns with the highest concentration of poverty in the state attend schools with larger kindergarten classes and less experienced teachers. In fact, two thirds of schools with the largest kindergarten class sizes were in just ten towns in the state–the same ten towns with the highest rates of child poverty. Close to half of the schools with the least experienced teachers are also located in these ten towns. Access to small class sizes early on and exposure to experienced instruction over the years are two crucial pieces of a high-quality education that sets children up for success in school and beyond. As a state, we do not provide this opportunity for success to all of our public school children.

Educators and school leaders report their confidence that this year’s SBAC scores serve as an important benchmark and that scores will most likely improve over time, but without affirmative and sufficient investment in schooling opportunities for all children, we cannot trust that the overall condition of our public schools will improve. If we want all children to grow, advance and succeed in our public schools and beyond, then we must fund them fairly and sufficiently and provide resources in both schools and communities that will enable all students – especially the most marginalized – to thrive and achieve.

These test scores do not exist in a vacuum and taken as such, we miss the opportunity to truly evaluate not just how students fare on one day in the spring but how their schools and communities are doing every day of the year. More importantly, we should use these test scores as a state to assess how we assure equitable opportunity in each of our schools and communities.

Rachel Leventhal-Weiner is an Education Policy Fellow at Connecticut Voices for Children, where she coordinates the organization’s research and policy work in early care and K-12 education. She is also a visiting assistant professor at Trinity College.

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