State should heed changes in SBAC testing

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

In just a few days, schoolchildren in kindergarten through grade 2 will have their daily schedule disrupted while students in grades 3 through 8 sit at computers, laptops and iPads taking the statewide Smarter Balanced assessment test. The testing period in Connecticut is from March 27 to May 26.

The multiple days of testing will result in changes in school routine for everyone. Despite efforts to minimize the importance of these tests, students read the adults in their lives very well and feel the tension, pressure, and disruption that affects everyone at school.

Of course, the greatest toll will be felt by students with special needs, those coping with learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, intellectual differences, emotional and/or behavioral difficulties as well as English language learners who continue to struggle with the complicated wording of test questions. Even with test accommodations, most of these students have little  chance of performing well on the Smarter Balanced test. 

For the third consecutive year, students in grades 3 through 8 in public schools will be expected to sit through an unproven, unrealistic, unfair, and discriminatory assessment protocol to fulfill state and federal education requirements. 

On January 30, Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell wrote to superintendents informing them that they could accept parent refusals to have their children participate in statewide testing without any pushback from school administrators. She even suggested that schools provide meaningful alternate activities for those students whose parents refuse this controversial testing. At the same time, she insisted that school systems would still have their accountability rating downgraded if they failed to meet the “95% participation rate” required by the recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act.

On March 9, however, the U.S. Senate voted to overturn parts of the act, particularly its accountability regulations, as they were seen by the majority of senators as an example of federal overreach. The Every Student Succeeds Act had been passed in order to give authority back to the states in determining education practices that best suited their needs as they would be better managed by locally elected political officials. 

To the best of my knowledge, Commissioner Wentzell has neither amended her letter nor informed school superintendents that there has been a significant change by the federal government in accountability regulations. I hope that Connecticut’s Next Generation Accountability System will be modified to remove the punitive “95% participation rate” data indicator that downgrades a school’s or district’s graded rating on this newly rolled-out accountability system.

As a result, the time is now for parents to let their children’s teachers and principals know that they are sick and tired of test-centric programming. Smarter Balanced test results do not reflect their children’s learning and cannot be trusted as a meaningful measure of student growth, progress, or proficiency. 

The stubborn controversy surrounding Smarter Balanced testing was not put to rest even after a year-and-a-half task force study because the committee failed to verify the psychometric underpinnings of the test.

On the other hand, task force representatives for teachers — those professionals who actually know, understand and deal with the daily learning needs of children — provided a professional, evidence-based minority report as to how Smarter Balanced testing affected students and interfered in their learning.

Your children will be delighted to miss out on the stress of high-stakes testing, undoubtedly envied by their classmates who will be taking the test. Your children will also be spared unverifiable test results and protected from having those test score data-points entered into the state’s comprehensive student longitudinal data system (but that’s a different story for another time).

The opportunity for parents to put an end to years of testing malfeasance is nearly upon us. Take advantage. Learn more about it. Organize with other parents. Speak up. Demand that education officials set a new course for engaging your children in creative, enthusiastic, meaningful learning and authentic assessments that are student-centered and measure what has been taught.  

John Bestor of Cheshire is a retired school psychologist who worked 41 years in Wesport public schools.

What do you think?

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