Will the CEA’s position on SBAC testing generate parental support?

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Teachers, students and union leaders rally against Smarter Balanced tests outside the state Capitol in May 2015

As the results of the SBAC Common Core testing across the nation are made public, the backlash from parents could possibly be severe and felt in every state as well as by the Department of Education in Washington, D.C. The failure of many students, especially in urban areas, could serve as the catalyst to end the crippling education Common Core State Standards reforms that have ushered in a new era of high-stakes testing.

In Connecticut, the most recent state to communicate the unacceptable SBAC test results, we find that urban communities such as Bridgeport have to endure the fact that an unbelievable number in excess of 90% of its students have failed the SBAC tests in math. In many of the suburban communities in Connecticut, we also find that high percentages of the students are unable to meet “proficiency,” which has added more fuel to the “opt out” movement as parents in both urban and suburban communities do not want their children to have failing test grades on their records when their children apply for college. However, the crucial question remains whether the recent Connecticut Education Association (CEA) position on SBAC testing will result in even greater numbers of Connecticut parents resisting future SBAC testing by joining the opt-out movement.

The dismal test score results in Connecticut have also necessitated the corporate reformers to do damage control.

Jennifer Alexander of ConnCan, for example, makes the questionable statement in a press release that “the baseline data will give us a new starting point to determine how well our schools and districts are preparing students for the challenges of “college” and “career,” thereby implying that Common Core will also establish a new role for public education. Hence, Alexander is basically espousing what the corporations want from public education which is to educate “career” ready students for their corporate world. As one English teacher in Connecticut, Elizabeth Natale, stated “the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are preparing students to be “workers” rather than “thinkers” and that government attempts to improve education are stripping away the joy of teaching and are doing nothing to help children.”

When Common Core’s main objective is to prepare “workers” rather than “thinkers,” it also negates opportunities for children to listen to each other and to collaborate on ideas. Common Core also becomes an impediment in allowing teachers opportunities to get to know their children deeply and to bring their interests into the classroom rather than to spend valuable instructional time on test preps. Common Core has also been an agent to dehumanize teaching as teachers must adhere to the mandates of the corporate reformers which runs counter to the needs and interests of their students.

More damage control also spewed from Jeffrey Villar, executive director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER), who said, “This year’s results are a baseline, a starting point from which we should see steady improvement in years to come.” Hence, in years to come, if 80% of the Bridgeport students should fail the SBAC math test instead of 90%, would this so called “improvement,” according to Villar, constitute “progress?”

What Villar and Alexander fail to mention, which is supported by research, is the well-known connection between poverty and the Common Core SBAC test results. That is why school districts such as Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven will have lower SBAC test scores while the more affluent communities such as Darien, Westport and New Canaan will have higher scores. Eventually, in this “test and punish” high-stakes atmosphere, we will see public schools in the so called “failing” school districts replaced with a more profitable and selective charter system, which is the hidden agenda of the corporate reformers’ support of Common Core SBAC testing.

As another classroom teacher and edu-blogger, Steven Singer, has made it crystal clear in his statement that “politicians (and corporate education reformers) seem to be committed to keep as many test and punish policies as possible as well as committed to the notion that the only way to tell if a school is doing a good job is by reference to its test scores. High test scores – good school. Bad test scores – bad school. This is baloney!”

Corporate reformers such as Alexander and Villar have a reputation, according to some, for not listening to the voices of Connecticut public school teachers as well as ignoring their pleas. President Sheila Cohen of CEA, which represents 43,000 public school teachers in Connecticut, had this to say about the SBAC testing in a recent statement:

“In our nation, the federal government and states have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on SBAC. This is not the first boondoggle in history, but it is one that Connecticut has the power and wisdom to free our students of this year. It is time for Connecticut to cut its losses. Seventeen of the 32 states that originally signed on to SBAC are no longer subjecting students in their states to the assessment. Here in our state, policymakers and legislators must push ahead in finding a replacement for SBAC.”

In summary, Cohen’s press release indicating that seventeen of the original 32 states have dropped the Common Core assessments does not bode well for the future of SBAC in Connecticut. Needless to say, this is a national reflection of parental dissatisfaction with the Common Core assessments. It would also appear that the Common Core advocates in Connecticut, such as Alexander, Villar and Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell, have failed to anticipate the backlash against the Common Core State Standards and SBAC testing.

Hence, as an outgrowth of the large number of Connecticut students failing the SBAC tests, the reformers have had to resort to the dissemination of misinformation as part of their damage control. However, if the CEA is successful in generating greater parental support through the opt-out movement that opposes SBAC testing for their children, this could turn the tide against SBAC. Moreover, it would also appear as though increased parental resistance might serve as the catalyst to end the national “one-size fits all” Common Core standards. The question remains to be answered whether the Common Core State Standards and its accompanying SBAC testing will become history as another failed experiment of the corporate education reform movement.

Joseph A. Ricciotti, Ed.D, is a retired educator from Fairfield. He spent 31 years in the Fairfield public school system and retired as an elementary school principal.

 

 

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