Need to save money? Cut Connecticut’s SBAC testing

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As the state of Connecticut wrangles with the budget in the coming weeks, one area of the budget the legislature has not yet considered for cuts is the state’s SBAC testing program.

The state estimates it will spend $17 million developing and administering standardized tests during the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years. Standardized testing has come under increasing scrutiny across the nation, particularly in its use for high-stakes decisions such as student promotion, in teacher evaluations, and other school personnel decisions. Both the American Statistical Association, the largest organization in the United States representing statisticians and related professionals, and the American Educational Research Association have questioned the validity of using standardized test scores to measure teacher effectiveness.

Advocates of standardized testing in general, and the SBAC in particular, have provided two primary reasons for the testing. The first is to identify underserved subgroups to better address their educational needs. Advocates contend that test scores provide political leverage that forces politicians and other stakeholders to respond to the needs of an underserved subgroup. However, as we look at the state’s current proposed budget cuts as reported by the CT Mirror, we see almost $24 million would be cut from the Office of Early Childhood and the departments of Social Services, Mental Health and Addiction Services, Public Health, and Children and Families.

In addition $16.3 million would be cut from the Department of Education and funding for magnet schools would be cut by $6 million. At the start of November, officials at the State Department of Education proposed eliminating a program that provides about 300 New Haven elementary students from low-income families with after-school homework help and access to extracurricular activities, such as African drumming, cooking and archaeology.

Funding for separate after-school and summer camps that focus on engineering would also be eliminated. That cut would affect programs in Bloomfield, Bridgeport, Bristol, Danbury, Hartford, Meriden, Milford, Newington, New Britain, New Haven, Norwalk, Stamford and Waterbury. Other programs for which funding would be eliminated include: a family literacy program at John C. Clark Elementary and Middle School in Hartford; the extended day program at Lincoln-Bassett School in New Haven; and funding for reading instructional supports in some of the state’s lowest-performing schools would be cut by $250,000.

What is the purpose of identifying underserved subgroups if the state is then going to turn around and cut funding for programs that address the educational needs of those students?

The second frequently cited justification for the multi-state assessments is to give parents a better understanding of how our children perform academically with their peers in other states. The two testing consortiums, PARCC and SBAC, to which Connecticut belongs, have seen a substantial reduction in the number of participating states.

Roughly half the states that belonged to either SBAC or PARCC have since abandoned the consortiums. As a result, the ability for parents to compare their children’s academic performance by comparing test scores from state to state has been substantially compromised. Very recently, Massachusetts, which is considered to be the nation’s highest performing state, made the decision to abandon the multi-state PARCC test.

In the current fiscal crisis, the state of Connecticut has to make some difficult budget-cutting decisions. Given the evolution of the SBAC test, it should institute a moratorium on standardized testing, which has been found to be of dubious value. Instead, the state should use the money to continue to fund educational programs that have a real and positive effect on the educational outcomes of Connecticut’s children.

James Mulholland lives in Glastonbury.

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