In a recent commentary piece, Jeffrey Villar, Executive Director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, praises the Connecticut State Board of Education’s support for using student SBAC results in teacher evaluations. He contends, “Connecticut continues to have one of the worst achievement gaps in the nation, the SBE appears committed to continuing to take this issue on.” Contrary to Mr. Villar’s assertion, there is little, if any, evidence to support the idea that including standardized test scores in teacher evaluations will close the so-called achievement gap.
If students are not learning, then the teacher has the opportunity to reflect on practices and improve them. For both student and teacher, learning is all about growth and development. The Smarter Balanced Assessment should be part of a teacher’s evaluation because it can provide that information.
I read with dismay Jeffrey Villar’s April 12 column titled, “State Board of Education Demands Action on Teacher Evaluation.” The arguments regarding teacher evaluation made by Villar and the corporate-backed organization he represents, the Connecticut Coalition for Education Reform (CCER), are misleading and insulting to teachers.
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.
Massachusetts, one of the leading states on education reform in the nation, in a monumental decision has abandoned Common Core testing. The Massachusetts Commissioner of Education, Michael Chester, in a stunning reversal, has walked away from the very test he helped to create. Now it remains to be seen if other states in the nation, including Connecticut, will follow Massachusetts, a state that is considered to be “the gold standard” in successful education reform.
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 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.
So what did we learn from the release of the SBAC scores? What did we learn after spending more than $2 million of state money and countless millions at the district levels to get these scores? Not much. We did learn that the achievement gap has not been in any way affected by implementation of the Common Core. We also learned that SBAC scores tell us nothing about students’ real competencies.
I respectfully disagree with the Ann Policelli Cronin’s recently published opinion, “SBAC: Failing most Connecticut children in more ways than one.” I am currently a high school English Language Arts teacher, and I take issue when people who are no longer in the classroom teaching students each day “advise” the rest of us on what to do for kids. I take issue with administrators and consultants constantly seeking to stay relevant by disrupting the educational process in classrooms, with an approach that is long past its prime. The truth is that our students do not measure up, and neither do many teachers, frankly. It’s a nationwide epidemic. Ms. Cronin reports that Connecticut students have some of the highest NAEP scores in the country, but she’s ignoring the real story: namely, that Connecticut is not really servicing all students equitably.
The Smarter Balanced Assessment is a rigorous, relevant, and refreshing change from the uninspiring and basic Connecticut Mastery Test. The math portion of the Smarter Balanced assessment provides students with the opportunity to apply skills they have acquired in the classroom to real-life scenarios, better preparing them for future problem-solving situations, such as planning a vacation.
This year’s new Smarter Balanced Assessment, designed to assess student learning and measure college and career readiness, is generally accepted as “raising the bar” for our children. Because the test is harder, education experts have repeatedly stated that they anticipate scores on the new test will go down. Nonetheless, the new test—while imperfect—represents a huge step forward in the science of education and provides an opportunity for our nation to dramatically increase our achievement levels for all children.
Those oh-so-elusive SBAC results: after millions of dollars squandered on broadband improvements, tedious test prep, and time diverted from actual learning, our students, parents, and teachers have been prevented from getting the test results because no one in educational leadership today has figured out how to “spin” the results without facing the consequences of this poorly designed, invalid, questionably-standardized assessment that was perpetrated on our public school students.