Opposition coelesces regarding school testing

A pitched battle is underway on the state and national level with opponents of the Smarter Balance Assessment Test to end SBAC testing.

Many of these people believe standardized testing in schools has become excessive.

Area parents and around the state are opting their third- through eighth-graders, and eleventh-graders out of the computerized test.

A teachers’ union, AFT Connecticut, recently rallied in Washington, D.C. to end No Child Left Behind reliance on standardized tests.

The president of the Connecticut Education Association, an advocate organization for teachers and public education, has testified before the state Legislature’s Education Committee to have SBAC testing replaced with a less arduous test.

"I think it’s a matter of time will tell regarding what will happen with the SBAC," said William Glass, deputy superintendent of Danbury schools. "There’s a national and state push back happening regarding over-testing of children."

The SBAC test has replaced the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) and Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) for determining mastery of mathematics and English language arts and literacy.

SBAC standards are more rigorous than earlier tests.

This was the first year of the test going live across 17 states. Results will be released to schools for evaluation of students mastery of curriculum.

During the two previous years, a pilot program and a field test were undertaken by selected schools.

The SBAC test was developed by a panel of educators as part of the Common Core standards created several years ago by governors and commissioners of education around the country.

Their goal was to create more rigorous educational standards to bring American students on job market level with the students of 26 to 30 other economically well developed countries.

Some parents argue the SBAC test is too difficult.

The Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium said the computerized test is estimated to produce a low percentage of students scoring at "level 3 or higher" of the four levels calculated from the test.

In math, that translated from 32 percent in grade 8 to 39 percent in grade 3.

In English language arts, the percentage of students who would score "level 3 or higher" ranged from 38 percent in grade 3 to 44 percent in grade 5.

"It is important to note that these figures are a Consortium-wide estimate based on the spring 2014 Field Test," a SBA Consortium press release stated in November 2014. "Once the operational assessment is administered in 2015, states will have a much clearer picture."

David Shaffer, a member of the New Milford Board of Education and former mathematic department chairman in New Milford schools, questions the value of a test in which two-thirds of the students are anticipated to fail.

"This will seriously discourage the kids who have done all we asked them to do, who did their homewok, studied hard," Shaffer said. "When the test results come out next year, it will give public education a black eye.”

“When people read next fall that only one-third of the students passed English and math, they will wonder what is wrong with the school, when the problem is with the test."

Teresa DeBrito, the curriculum director in Region 12, said all students stay in the testing area during the test taking. Some have chosen not to respond to all questions but, by state and federal law, the district must follow this protocol and encourage test taking.

When a student hands in the test, they are allowed to sit and read in the room.

"At the secondary level, our 11th graders taking the test see it as a call to citizenship," DeBrito said. "That is one of our core values and, after having the purpose of the test presented to them, they have chosen that path."

In New Milford, Joshua Smith, the assistant superintendent of schools, declined to say what students who opt out of the test do while other students are taking it. He referred to the state Department of Education for its recommendation on that situation.

"We do have children refusing to take the test," Smith said recently. "Our plan is to learn from the test where we are and where we have to go in our curriculum planning."

Four New Milford parents with children in grades 3 through 11 said they told their children not to take the test. All said their children were required to remain in the testing area during the test. Some were allowed to read, while one mother said her son had to "sit there quietly."

""I opted my son out," said Angel Cortello-Fute, whose son was in seventh-grade at Schaghticoke Middle School. "For the last two days of testing they made him sit in the same room as the kids taking the test and be quiet.”

“They would not allow my son to do anything other than sit,” she added. “No book. No work. Just sit and watch the other students take the test."

Smith said New Milford took part in the 2013-14 SBAC field test and it was explained then to students before taking the tests that the test "isn’t a measure of a particular student."

"We told them ‘If you don’t do well on this test, we’ll do a better job of teaching you ( the curriculum)," Smith said. "We set that standard."

Patrice McCarthy, deputy director and general counsel at the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said CABE believes there is a need for a statewide testing system and the SBAC testing is in compliance with federal No Child Left Behind law.

"The SBAC test appears to be an appropriately designed assessment of a student’s abilities," McCarthy said. "I think students want to be challenged. There was also criticism of the CMT and CAPT tests, saying they weren’t challenging enough."

Kelly Donnelly, director of communication for the state Board of Education, said the rigorous standards of the SBAC test will strengthen curriculum, getting students ready for college.

"Many students we are seeing across the state have to take remedial classes in subjects when they get to college before they can do college level work," Donnelly said. "It’s because they’re not ready to be there."

Shaffer said this depends on the seconday school attended by the kids. As math department head in New Milford in 2009 and 2010, he said he had asked Western Connecticut State University how many New Milford kids entering the college passed the math placement test.

Some 86 percent had passed, he was told.

Common Core standards are intended to focus on critical thinking and problem solving.

The math part of the Smarter Balance assessment is administered on computers and measures mastery through questions requiring students to demonstrate they truly understand the content, Donnelly said. The computer adjusts question difficulty on student response to the previous question.

DeBrito said the second part of the test is English language arts and literacy and includes reading comprehension and writing responses. It is not adaptive like the tests math part yet demands a high level of cognitive thinking.

The SBAC test doesn’t delve below grade level proficiency in its questions, Donnelly noted. The results of the SBAC test can reveal subjects in what areas students are excelling and where students needs extra help, she said.

Sheila Cohen, president of the Connecticut Education Association, believes the SBAC tests "seven- to eight-hour length is too long."

"Students are assessed on a single, long, test administered over an extended time period in a problematic format," Cohen said, "increasing the likelihood of inaccurate outcomes resulting from frustration, stress and fatigue."

Cohen cites Steven Rasmussen of SR Education Associates, who said "SBAC tests ... shoddy craft will directly and significantly contribute to students’ poor and inaccurate scores."

Cohen want to see "progressive monitoring tests (PMT)" replace SBAC testing. with shorter tests at the beginning, middle and end of a school year. PMT results are immediately available to teachers for use in assisting students’ grasp of curriculum concepts, she said.

PMT tests are already used in many Connecticut elementary and middle school classrooms to measure student growth, she said. Statewide PMT testing would be equally acceptable to No Child Left Behind, she asserts.

Donnelly explained end-of-the-year SBAC testing follows Connecticut tradition.

stuz@newstimes.com; 203-731-3352