Cost of SBAC testing in Connecticut is unconscionable, unnecessary

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Education activists have been speaking out and pushing back against the misguided Common Core State Standards and the flawed Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) statewide test protocol for several years now, as they have become more aware of the billionaire-driven, media-complicit, and politically-entrenched “corporate education reform” agenda.

Although the computer-adaptive Smarter Balanced Assessment remains unproven and developmentally-inappropriate, proponents of the controversial test have been unable to demonstrate that SBAC is a psychometrically valid or reliable measure of student academic progress, let alone college- and career-readiness.  Nor have they convincingly countered claims that SBAC is unfair and discriminatory to students who are required to suffer through hours of supposedly “rigorous” and often incomprehensible test questions.

Despite a charge from the Connecticut Legislature’s Education Committee to evaluate the efficacy of SBAC, the Mastery Examination Task Force has failed to address the fundamental psychometric criticisms associated with SBAC which have been convincingly presented by Dr. Mary Byrne in her testimony in the Missouri lawsuit against SBAC.

The Task Force has also failed to consider the findings of over 100 California researchers who called “for a moratorium on high-stakes testing broadly, and in particular, on the use of scientifically discredited assessment instruments (like the current SBAC, PARCC, and Pearson instruments).”   Is there any chance that the Task Force would review the College Board executive’s whistle-blower commentary on the unprofessional and fraudulent development of the newly-redesigned SAT?

Although these findings resonate with education activists and an increasing number of parents across the nation, they have fallen on deaf ears with leadership in our state, even while many other states have dropped their membership with the consortium or removed tying results to high stakes until such findings are substantiated.  Perhaps, an understanding of the exorbitant costs associated with the controversial SBAC and Statewide SAT will gain the public’s attention.

Gov. Dannel Malloy and former Education Commissioner
Stefan Pryor signed the NCLB waiver agreement that coerced and committed the CSDE to (at the time) unidentified costs associated with the “next generation” SBAC assessment in order to escape unrealistic NCLB expectations.  The SBAC membership contract is renewed annually for $2.7 million a year (now estimated $2.3 million with 11th-graders out assuming CSDE was able to recover the costs for not testing juniors).

In addition, $13.5 million is paid to AIR (American Institutes of Research) to administer the SBAC test.  Another $15.3 million has been allocated to AIR (over 4 years, including this year’s pilot) to cover CMT/CAPT Science Test administration.  An adjustment was necessary to the original SBAC agreement when the CSDE switched to the unproven, newly-redesigned Statewide SAT for 11th graders which resulted in a $4.4 million three-year contract with the College Board.  Under the current state testing protocol, these expenditures will be recurring and likely to increase in future contract renewals.  These estimates do not include the untold expense associated with the substantial costs to districts for implementation, teacher time for test preparation, and student time lost to meaningful instruction.

During the recent government budget crisis and with future budgets likely to be just-as or even-more difficult, this CSDE/CSBE cost is both unconscionable and unaffordable.

Bottom line: this is an unnecessary expense as the Mastery Examination Task Force can re-design the course of statewide assessments.

Task Force members need to look afresh at the federal testing mandate required by the recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act.  This re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in late 2015 empowers each state to determine its own assessment practice as long as the state meets its federal obligation by measuring Reading and Math student achievement annually in grades 3 – 8, 11 and Science achievement three times during that same grade span.

No longer are we required to give one extensive summative test each year, when the requirement can be met by using interim assessments that are already given in schools and combining those with more authentic forms of assessment that are far more meaningful to students.

Rather than expend millions of dollars in massive giveaways to the greedy test industry and their lobbying business partners in the charter-school movement, there is no doubt that this assessment expectation could be accomplished more simply and more cost effectively.

Education activists and the parents who have courageously opted their children out of the unproven SBAC understand the tangled web of deceit with which the proponents of “corporate education reform” are remaking, some say destroying, American public education.

John Bestor is a recently retired school psychologist who worked for 41 years in a Connecticut public school system.

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