Failed common core SBAC/SAT tests punish students by Wendy Lecker

In a weekend commentary piece in the Stamford Advocate entitled, Failed common core tests punish students, education advocate Wendy Lecker writes,

Across the country, states are re-examining their embrace of the hastily implemented common core tests. Membership in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) has dwindled from 31 to 14 states. West Virginia is the latest state to consider dropping the test for all grades.

Last year, Connecticut convened a committee to review Connecticut’s standardized tests, the SBAC and SAT. However, the committee’s final report ignored serious validity problems and concluded Connecticut should plow ahead with these expensive and questionable standardized tests.

Connecticut’s teachers’ unions, CEA and AFT, dissented from this report, because these committee members did their homework. Their enlightening minority report is based on an examination of the evidence on the SBAC, as well as surveys of teachers, administrators, parents and students conducted across Connecticut.

The minority report highlights the evidence ignored by the Mastery Committee. It notes that experts across the country admit that computer adaptive tests such as the SBAC are “in their infancy” and their validity cannot yet be established. Compounding the validity problems is the inconsistency in computer skills among different populations in Connecticut, with poor kids at a particular disadvantage; and the inconsistency in devices used. Shockingly, the minority report emphasizes Connecticut has not proven alignment between the SBAC and our state standards. There is also no evidence that the SBAC is valid to measure student “growth.”

Administrators overwhelmingly agree that the SBAC is not user-friendly for students with disabilities or English Language Learners.

The SBAC is a bust. But, though recent federal law allows Connecticut to explore other types of assessments, Connecticut remains wedded to the SBAC.

The Mastery Committee report itself reveals the problems with the SAT. The technical report on which the committee relied to “prove” validity for use in Connecticut does not mention Connecticut once. It is worthless for determining the validity of the SAT as Connecticut’s high school accountability test. Moreover, the report the committee cited to show alignment between the SAT and Connecticut high school standards revealed only a 71-percent match to Connecticut English standards, with entire categories having no strong alignment or none whatsoever. Math had an abysmal 43 percent strong alignment between the SAT and Connecticut Standards. We know what would be in 100-alignment: a teacher’s end-of-year test and what students learned in that class. And since a high school GPA is a much stronger predictor of college success than the SAT, Connecticut would do well to explore high school tests that match what students actually learn.

But instead the Mastery Committee recommends blind adherence to the SAT.

Continuing these invalid tests comes at a steep price. As the minority report noted, 90 percent of teachers stated that testing and test prep has resulted in lost learning time and restricted access to computer labs. The impact is particularly devastating in our poorest districts. A majority of districts reported technical problems during testing, again with poorest districts suffering the most.

Contrary to Connecticut’s goals, these tests drive instruction, especially in poor schools. Disadvantaged districts are most vulnerable to sanctions such as school or district takeover based on poor test results. Thus, they have resorted to interim computerized tests for test prep. Children in Bridgeport and other districts suffer through multiple administrations of i-Ready tests and/or MAP tests, and prep for these tests. They lose additional weeks of learning time. Some of these districts have direct pressure from the state to use these tests, as their Alliance District funding depends on student improvement on these measures.

Yet, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins, there is a complete “lack of a research base on i-Ready and MAP as means for improving student learning” which they find “both surprising and disappointing given their widespread use as well as their cost.”

These same districts are deprived of proven interventions that actually help students learn. For example, the judge in the CCJEF school funding case found a lack of reading and math intervention staff throughout the CCJEF districts, as well as shortages of space, time and supplies for reading and math intervention. While districts cannot afford to provide real help for kids, they are forced to spend money and time on invalid measures of student performance.

It has been three years since Connecticut implemented the SBAC and there is still no evidence that it is valid. And Connecticut implemented the SAT knowing it was invalid for use as an accountability test. As long as our leaders keep failing to learn this expensive lesson, our neediest children will continue to pay the price.

This commentary pieces was first published in the Stamford Advocate.  You can read and comment on it at http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Failed-common-core-tests-punish-10906971.php