More on CT’s disastrous move to force all high school juniors to take the “NEW” SAT

Public education advocate and fellow education columnist Maria Naughton has another important article out about the NEW SATS and the decision by Governor Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly to force all 11th graders to take the “Common Core” aligned test.  The article first appeared in the New Canaan Advertiser

Education Matters: Problems with state’s change to student testing

New Canaan parents were recently informed that the SAT will replace the SBAC as the mandatory high school assessment for Juniors. This notice, from Governor Malloy and the State Department of Education, was in response to last year’s Smarter Balanced Assessment and the increasing standardized testing taking place in school. That testing led to an uproar around the state, prompting many families to opt-out.

Parents also learned the SAT will be given at no cost to students, and will be administered during the school day this coming spring. According to the state, barriers to accessing the SAT will be removed, thus expanding college opportunities for more students. While this is a laudable goal and may benefit many, mandating a college entrance exam is a mistake. This error is further compounded by the fact that, yet again, parents are being told by some school officials that students will not be able to opt-out, with some parents believing students will not graduate if they do. As we learned last year about the standardized testing, these are both untrue, and for many reasons, this move will surely be challenged.

Most obviously, making the SAT mandatory removes student choice. Of the two major college entrance tests from which most students pick, the ACT and SAT, the ACT is growing in popularity, as it is more reflective of the school experience. Students, including those in New Canaan, are well advised by parents, school counselors, and even private “college advisors.”  They are making personalized and informed decisions on the matter. Consequently, students deciding that the ACT would be a better fit will end up taking both high-stakes tests, wasting both time and money, and diluting both efforts. Taking away student choice on a topic of this importance when we expect students to be more self-directed does not make sense.

Moreover, many families and students are learning that the 2016 SAT is completely new, and essentially experimental. The College Board (under the direction of the Common Core creator, David Coleman) has revised this test to align with the Common Core standards. Ironically, the new version of the SAT will have many of the same shortcomings as the 11th Grade SBAC. It has limited reliability and validity, is based on controversial standards, and experts are predicting a drop in scores for at least a few test administrations. Having a student take it willingly and knowingly is one matter. But announcing that all students must sit during the school day for this two-hour assessment, replete with issues, which will impact their transcript, all while there is an alternative, is unfair.

Furthermore, many colleges are offering test flexibility when it comes to the college-entrance process and are looking for more holistic approaches to evaluating students. According to U.S. News and World Report, 195 of the 850 test-flexible universities are deemed top-tier schools.  Considering that high school grades and course choice are better indicators of college readiness than standardized tests, this flexibility makes sense. Clearly, the long-held belief that taking the SAT is the only gateway to obtaining a college education is no longer the reality.

Over-testing

This move will not even address the issue of over-testing. This year’s Junior class will endure an alphabet soup of testing in an effort to cover their bases. While some are taking AP tests, many will now take the PSAT to practice for the new SAT. They may also take the ACT, the old SAT, and the new SAT. At a time when parents are constantly reminded not to put too much pressure on our children when it comes to college preparations, maybe parents are not the problem. The state, and consequently the schools, have created a vortex of high pressure testing based on the rigorous “college and career standards,” starting right from Kindergarten. It would not be a stretch to think that students are experiencing stress and anxiety from sitting in the center of this educational maelstrom, despite the network of counselors, school psychologists and social workers ready to respond.

In all of this, there is one certainty. Mandating this test during the school day will expand the number of students taking the SAT. This is sorely needed by the College Board, whose market share has declined from 87% to 76%, while ACT’s has increased from 13% to 24%. This move would also enhance the College Board’s Student Search Service product, which allows licensees and research organizations to purchase student records up to five years after a student’s graduation, for as little as 40-cents per name. Acquiring the test “rights” in Connecticut would be a notch in their bottom-line belt, making one wonder if this move is more advantageous to students, or to the College Board.

Fortunately, and perhaps to no surprise, it was mentioned at last week’s New Canaan High School meeting that this policy is not solidified at the state level. Additionally, local BOE testing policies have not changed, meaning no single test score can ever be used as the “sole criterion of promotion or graduation.” Parents still have the right to refuse a test as they always have. That could change, as it has in other states, unless we advocate on behalf of our students. We need the BOE and the Administration to stand up to bad policies that divert local control and thwart parental decision-making.

Obviously, we all want what is best for our students.  By using critical thinking and advocating for what is right, we can ensure that happens.

To understand more about the two tests, you can find an online tool created by Dr. Gary Gruber, publisher of many SAT/ACTbooks:   http://www.drgarygruber.com/which-test-new-or-old-sat/

To learn more about the “test flexible” colleges and universities, visit www.fairtest.org.

Naughton is an educational consultant, former teacher and mother of four. She also serves on the Republican Town Committee, and is a Realtor with Barbara Cleary’s Realty Guild. Opinions expressed in this column solely reflect her views. You may email her [email protected]

You can read and post comments on the original piece at: http://ncadvertiser.com/58932/education-matters-problems-with-states-change-to-student-testing/#ixzz3ovlrEGvy

Greater transparency needed around standardized testing in schools (By Maria Naughton)

Maria Naughton is a fellow education advocate, as well as an educational consultant, former teacher and mother of four.  She also writes a column for the New Canaan Advertiser newspaper and is a regular quest columnist here at Wait, What?  Her latest piece can be found at: http://ncadvertiser.com/50468/column-greater-transparency-needed-around-standardized-testing-in-schools/

Greater transparency needed around standardized testing in schools by Maria Naughton

Following last year’s field test, high school juniors have started the new Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA), which has replaced two sections of the former sophomore-year CAPT. Different than the CAPT, this new test aligns to the Common Core standards, which claim to raise the bar for students. Measuring fewer academic topics, the SBA was created to measure, “college and career readiness,” a term referring to the ability to skip remedial coursework in either a post-secondary institution or in a certificate program leading to a “career pathway,” like those in a technical school.

This eight-hour assessment, which ends June 12, is web-based, and adaptive to student ability. The Smarter Balanced Consortium, a multi-state public agency located at UCLA, created the test. Low scores are predicted, but New Canaan may do better than most following many years of preparation. Regardless, perhaps we need to think more deeply about this unproven test and its future impact.

These tests have been inserted into a critical year. As juniors, students are working hard to meet academic demands while making preparations for college. Many are taking AP courses, and studying for other high-stakes tests, such as the AP, SAT and ACT, which help students earn credits and increase their chances for college admissions. SBA testing during this year causes students to miss instructional time, putting both grades and AP credits at risk, and impacts efforts to do well on college entrance exams. Considering many students are already taking college-level coursework, the “college readiness” predictive value of the new test seems redundant. Additionally, in creating this test, the Consortium seems to ignore findings that high school grades are a bigger predictor of college success than any standardized tests.

Unlike class grades, these tests currently mean very little for juniors. Results won’t be available until after July, and won’t impact grades or course placement. A quick survey of nine Connecticut colleges and universities found that none are looking at these scores. To fulfill graduation requirements, just like in the past, these scores may be only one of many factors, according to state statute. The NCHS handbook lists these, and students can easily meet with their counselors to clarify.

Students and families may find the scoring parameters unsettling. Despite its lack of validity and untested predictive value, the Consortium has already determined that most students in Connecticut will fail the Spring 2015 test. According to them, 60-90% of test-takers won’t pass, with sub-groups doing the worst. A score of one through four will become part of a student’s academic record, yet the implications of scores are unclear. However, according to a draft Consortium Policy Framework, low scores may result in additional coursework and remediation in grade 12 to prove college-readiness.

And in what ostensibly seems to be a clinical trial, the Consortium, in partnership with UCLA, will analyze these results, to be used for research, development and future recommendations. Clearly, the Consortium wields much control over our local schools, yet we know little about them. This group, consisting of 17 states, is federally funded, and is supported by the Gates Foundation among others, but it isn’t clear to whom they are accountable. Their assessments, they claim, will ensure our children are, “productive, engaged and ethical citizens” but how that is accomplished is unclear. Their goal is to, “improve educational outcomes” for millions, yet their governance authority is not transparent to families and taxpayers, and the data sharing remains a mystery.

Many families who are aware of the testing/standards flaws, the scoring problems, and the questionable data practices are refusing the test. Following state guidance, local district administrators had been telling parents that opting-out was not possible, because 95% participation was needed to ensure federal funding. Administrators have since reversed that decision, but even if that were true, in communities like New Canaan, that amount is negligible. In truth, no district should be coerced into accepting this murky and experimental plan, certain to fail most children, at the risk of losing funding for their neediest students.

It’s time for all of us to take a serious look at the role of standardized testing in our schools, paying extra attention to this new assessment. Greater transparency is needed around all those involved, including the Consortium, to better understand the impact on our students, the ongoing quality of our schools and the allocation of future resources. State law requires districts to give annual assessments, but there is no law forcing a child to take them. Parents can, as in the past, refuse the test. Parents should refuse to accept the results if children have already been tested. This is the only means by which a parent will have a voice in this process. Let’s restore control of education to the towns, school districts, and to the families they serve.

 

Student privacy concerns continue to grow (Guest Post by Maria Naughton)

Maria Naughton is an educator, educational consultant and public school parent.  She is a frequent guest columnist here at Wait, What? and writes commentary pieces for the New Canaan Advertiser where this piece was first posted. See: http://ncadvertiser.com/43686/student-privacy-concerns-continue-to-grow/

It is all about the Data – The uncomfortable truth about teaching in America

Privacy protections for our youngest citizens are undergoing a troubling transformation due to recent policy changes, and requirements in education. As a result, both state and private entities are gaining expanded access and use of individual-level student data. Upon closer examination, it is becoming abundantly clear that greater controls need to be put in place.

To explain further, a key requirement of the education-related Race to the Top program mandated collecting data on students to “ensure” their successful navigation into the workforce. This has resulted in an almost non-stop (and ever-expanding) stream of information being collected and stored on our children, starting as soon as they enter formalized schooling, and possibly sooner.

At the state level, data on children will be aggregated from various state agencies into one system. This personally identifiable information (PII), will be collected from birth and into the workforce, and will be made accessible to Federal agencies. Maintained in federally-funded state repositories (P20WIN in Connecticut), this data, we are told, is necessary to ensure that our children are “college and career ready.”

However, in order to make that PII more accessible than in the past, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act or FERPA was redefined by the Obama administration, removing longstanding federal protections for children. Most of us would agree that teachers making data-driven decisions to ensure student success make perfect sense. But the lack of insight as to how this state-level digital dossier will be used, or where captured data is stored, is disturbing.

This information gathering will begin early. Nationally, in grant-funded preschools, educators are learning that those much-needed federal dollars come with strings attached. Teachers are finding they have endless reporting requirements about their young students, which cover everything from toileting habits to cooperation skills, to expressions of understanding and “empathy” towards others. Schools are being mandated to use programs like Teaching Strategies Gold, into which teachers spend inordinate amounts of time entering up to ten “domains” of information, even submitting photos and videos to provide what they call evidence, to ensure toddlers are on the track to success.

Behaviors common in preschool, like biting or whining, while just a blip on the radar of child development, may now be logged forever in an electronic student record. And while the appropriate course of action would be for a teacher and parent to discuss the behaviors, entering them into a database will allow unseen analysts to perceive them as indicators of a potential mental health issue, when in fact, a child might just be having a bad day.

Of course, preschool teachers have always monitored the progress of the children in their care. What is disturbing is the submission of this data to unknown entities and the lack of understanding about where it goes. In Connecticut, the Early Childhood Information System (ECIS) is under development, and will be part of the newly-funded Office of Early Childhood. This ECIS system will connect to the P20WIN, ensuring contiguous progress monitoring on children. The P20WIN is overseen by an appointed Data Governance Board, which holds the authority to release that data upon request to organizations meeting the “educational use” requirement. This illustrates just how far removed parents and families have become from how these agencies are using their children’s information.

Data gathering does not stop at preschool. As children move through the public school system, they will continue to generate personal data, often through online programs and third-party vendors not under the direct control of the schools. A key component to education reform involves the concept of “personalized learning.” Parents should familiarize themselves with this term. This involves students using an electronic device, and an online program, with or without teacher instruction, to learn. Theoretically, by using analytics and algorithms, the online instruction is tailored to the student’s individual needs.

Recent online programs in use in the Norwalk public schools include programs like mClass for literacy or Total Motivation, a program meant to teach critical thinking. These programs capture online responses and behaviors, in order to be personalized. While it is easy to appreciate the entrepreneurial spirit of the new products flooding the market as a result of the educational reforms, conflicts begin to emerge about who benefits most from the use of these innovative, albeit new teaching methods.

To clarify, using methodologies with a proven track record for students makes sense. However, that proof may not be evident with some new web-based products, which are under continuous development. As an example, a recent Grossman Family Foundation study in Connecticut looked at the impact of using mClass in certain pilot schools, over other reading programs and found the differences in achievement, “statistically insignificant.” Yet, while the benefits to students are negligible, the vendors do benefit from student feedback through use of the product. As a direct result of the FERPA law change, those responses may be used by the organization for future product development, without parental consent, effectively putting students in the position of being unsuspecting, and unpaid, product testers, instead of receiving time-tested and effective instruction.

In addition, the “digital dossier” will grow as more and more students submit to online instruction as part of their public education. As of right now, there is little protection for a child’s online profile, or the sharing of that data with others. Proposals like President Obama’s recently introduced Student Digital Privacy Act, while appearing to protect students, actually only clarifies that personal student data may be shared as long as it is for “educational purposes.” This new act, which does nothing to keep this data out of the hands of the educational product vendors, is a cleverly titled fig leaf which allows States to assuage the growing privacy concerns being raised by parents.

These concerns are real, and state lawmakers, including those in Connecticut, are listening to their constituents. Several bills have been introduced in this legislative session, which will go further to offer privacy protections for students and their families. Additionally, legislators are seeking to understand how students’ time is being used in school with regards to online learning. These are sure to gain bipartisan support. Please stay engaged, and check in at cga.ct.gov/ to learn which Bills have been put forth, and how you can make your voice known to the Committees, which will be discussing them.

Note:  Many data collection products are being used by Connecticut public school systems.  For example, Norwalk uses mclass (mentioned above) which is a product of Amplify, the massive corporate education reform industry entity owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch and education reformers Joel Klein –   http://www.amplify.com/assessment/mclass-reading-3d.

Education Advocate Maria Naughton on the Common Core and Smarter Balanced Assessment Test

Here are two new more contributions from public education advocate Maria Naughton.  Maria Naughton is an educational consultant, former teacher and mother of four children in New Canaan Public Schools. She writes a column for the News of New Canaan.

The first is a link to a radio show in which Maria Naughton discusses the Common Core with Stephen Wright, a member of Governor Malloy’s State Board of Education.  Although 30 minutes in length, it is a “MUST LISTEN” because it reveals how little this State Board of Education member understands about the Common Core and the associated Common Core testing scheme.

https://soundcloud.com/hersam-acorn-radio/2014-0418-behind-the-news

The second is a recent column Maria Naughton wrote for the New of New Canaan entitled, “How do we guard our children’s digital footprint?.  Naughton wrote,

This week concluded the second week of the Smarter Balanced field-testing in New Canaan. As we started this testing, more than 20 other states were also instructed by the Smarter Balanced Consortium to give this field test.

Despite the fallacies perpetuated by our state Department of Education, these are not mandated mastery tests; this is product development. Statewide, the frustration of the test was heightened by inconsistent responses to families which ranged from permission to opt-out, repeated misleading statements about the legality of opting out, and even “community service” credit offered to those participating.

This entire experience has led to confusion, lost educational time and many distressed students, particularly juniors for whom this year is already stressful. Looking beyond all of that, there looms an even bigger issue here: the federally-funded Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium appears to exercise an inordinate level of control over our schools.

After signing the Consortium Memorandum of Understanding in 2010, Gov. Malloy and Education Commissioner Pryor agreed to rules set by the Consortium, including the type and timing of assessments, and reporting of data. This agreement imposes an added layer of complexity on our schools, specifically related to testing and reporting, while lessening the ability of families to fully understand the impact on our children’s future.

We have already seen the impact of this “shared-decision model” after the Consortium informed states that the testing would be delayed a week. In a unilateral move, this organization sent districts around the country scrambling to reschedule events in a week already disrupted by testing, further dictating how our resources had to be used to accommodate the online testing.

Privacy concerns

After testing, it will be the Consortium and their test vendors who will have performance data on New Canaan students. This puts the privacy of our students at risk, as plans for future data aggregation for tracking and profit continue to develop. For this year’s field test, parents have been told we will not receive student results from this “no-stakes” test. But these tests are not anonymous. Once students hit “submit,” someone will know how he or she performed. Educational data has been shared in the past, but there were laws protecting privacy. Now, the federal privacy law (FERPA) that protected student information has been changed. Being “FERPA-compliant” means nothing for families, as the change in the law actually expands the definition of who may access the data, giving parents no control whatsoever as to who sees their child’s data profile, or even the ability to challenge inaccuracies.

As these tests become more refined and profit incentives emerge, data-sharing concerns will grow. Corporations have spent billions to support education reform. Bill Gates clarified that intent, saying that once curriculum and assessments are fully aligned, it will “unleash a powerful market for people providing services.” Those services may be in the form of online, personalized learning, delivered as part of the New Canaan’s K-12 one-to-one device initiative, which naturally would be dependent on academic and behavioral response data from our children.

Most parents no longer have a clear-cut understanding of the rationale behind all this testing, or the intentions for the increased need for data beyond our town borders. New Canaan has been highly successful for years, guiding generations to post-high school success. Yet the Consortium maintains that annual testing and powerful data analysis is critical to evaluate student readiness for college or career. That statement should give us all pause. How many of us are comfortable with our children receiving any indication of college readiness starting in third grade? Do we believe that anyone other than our child or their teacher should know their progress and performance, especially if it includes predictive indicators about future potential? How many of us are comfortable with personal and assessment information being shared with this consortium? Who are they and why do they want my child’s data profile? How does a parent protect their child from this?

This entire effort is truly creating a hardship for many families. The unknowns and the growing digital portfolio on our children is troubling. The possibilities for use and misuse are real. The actions of the Smarter Balanced Consortium are putting our children squarely in the middle of the families trying to protect their future and the desires and demands of the schools and state. Families should make their feelings known to members of the Board of Education, and insist that our children’s “digital footprint” is guarded with the same level of care afforded to our children themselves.

Thecolumn can be found at: http://www.ncadvertiser.com/31519/how-do-we-guard-our-childrens-digital-footprint/?fb_action_ids=1490924381126490&fb_action_types=og.likes

 

Legislative Leaders’ failure to act leaves many parents in limbo on Common Core Testing

For weeks the Malloy administration has been engaged in an outrageous public relations campaign to mislead parents of Connecticut’s public school students into believing that they did not have the right to opt their children out of this year’s Common Core Smarter Balanced Field Test of the test.

Rather than stand up for the rights of their parents, most public school superintendents and principals blindly followed the directives that were being sent out by Stefan Pryor, Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education.

The Malloy Administration’s concerted effort to force students to take the Common Core Smarter Balanced Field Test is truly inappropriate since Connecticut parents clearly have the legal right to opt their children out from this year’s Common Core test.

The Malloy administration’s efforts reveal just how loyal they are to the corporate education reform industry and how little they care about public education, public school students, the rights of parents and Connecticut law.

But equally troublesome is the fact that not one of the Connecticut General Assembly’s top four leaders took action to request a formal legal opinion from Attorney General George Jepsen.

A legal opinion from the Attorney General would have clarified that Malloy and Pryor were out of line in their ongoing efforts to stop parents from opting their children out of the inappropriate Common Core test of a test that begins this coming week.

Each of the following legislative leaders; Senator President Don Williams (Democrat), Senator Minority Leader John McKinney (Republican), House Speaker Brendon Sharkey (Democrat) and House Minority Leader Larry Carfero (Republican) had the authority to request a formal legal opinion from the Attorney General.

But not one of them was willing to stand up for Connecticut’s parents.

The legislative leaders’ failure to act is a sad commentary, especially since Republican legislators have been claiming that they were troubled by the way the Malloy administration has been implementing their “education reforms.”

With the Common Core Smarter Balanced Field Test starting this week, here is a column that was written by Maria Naughton and provides some more details about the new Common Core testing scheme.

Maria Naughton is an educational consultant, former teacher and mother of four children in New Canaan Public Schools.  Here commentary piece on the Common Core Smarter Balanced Field Test was first published in the NCAdvertiser.com, the news of New Canaan.

Parents’ and students’ dilemma: Smarter Balanced Assessment 101 (By Maria Naughton)

Starting this week, millions of students around our country and here in New Canaan are going to take part in a significant event in education.

From March 18 through June 6, students in third through eighth grade as well as 11th will participate in a field test of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Unfortunately, many New Canaan parents still lack an understanding of the tests and of the complications they present for many, and they’re not alone. Let’s look a little deeper into this next generation of assessments.

In the past, for math, English and writing, our students took CMTs, which explicitly measured student learning in grades three through eight. Since its inception in 1985, the CMT has formed the foundation for evaluating schools and programs, and also provided families with a yearly progress report. While these tests served as only one indicator of our success, New Canaan has always fared well.

But beginning in 2015, the math, English and writing portion of the CMTs are going to be replaced with an online test called the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Students will still be tested in grades three through eight, but now 11th grade has been added to the assessment regimen. If you’re wondering the reason we are talking now about a test to be given in 2015, it’s that the new assessment has yet to be field tested; its still under construction and requires students to actually try it out in order to validate it. As a result, our State Department of Education has asked districts to skip the mandated yearly assessment (CMT) and instead have students field test the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Since it is a field test, parents and students won’t see any test results.

After the Common Core State Standards were adopted, a different assessment was needed to measure student achievement of those standards. Under the new standards students will be taught fewer concepts, but theoretically will learn deeper, “higher-order thinking skills.”

What new test quantifies

The old CMT was not designed to measure skills, it was geared toward measuring what a student actually knew. The SBAC will instead quantify how deeply students demonstrate these new skills; this represents the shift from content to skills. For example, the CMT might have asked a student to solve a math problem, with the student’s answer determining whether they got the question right or wrong. However in the new model, a student may be asked to write out multiple explanations of how they could reach an answer in lieu of (or in addition to) the actual answer. This can penalize those whose math skills are stronger than their writing skills, in many instances boys, whose writing skills tend to develop later. In this way, a child’s math score could be impacted by limitations in their writing skills.

There have been benefits to standardized testing. The CMTs allowed for reporting on concrete, tangible skills which all students needed to be successful. But this next generation of assessments has led to many issues.

The amount of time now dedicated to test preparation has eclipsed many aspects of education, especially those that do not show up on any standard test result. Some topics seem to be evaporating. As an example, how different would the curriculum look if there were an American History component to standardized testing?

The computer-based test format is going to be an issue for many children. While they are adept at most any technology, the content must be engaging to keep them on task. The lack of typing ability, in this writing-intensive assessment, will hinder every test-taker’s performance.

The fact that this is an online test presents data security issues that have yet to be explored. The state is making preparations to compile data and educational records on children from preschool through college. How that data will be used or shared is not yet known, and we should proceed with caution.

Many parents are unhappy that our students are being pressured to field test this product. Parents feel their children are being used as guinea pigs in an experiment made worse by the fact that they will see no results for their seven hours’ effort. Further, parents will not receive the annual progress report, which the CMT provided.

Ultimately, parents are presented with a dilemma this year: Do we allow our children to be used to validate a test, or do we opt-out? When parents attempt to opt-out, they are being challenged. In fact, the State of Connecticut has provided school districts with a scripted response to strongly dissuade families from taking that route, stating that not taking the SBAC would be a violation of the testing mandate. Be assured: there is no law in Connecticut mandating that our children field test an assessment product. In fact, Bethel students are actually being awarded with community service hours in exchange for submitting to the field test; a tacit acknowledgment of the “service” they are providing.

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Maria Naughton is an educational consultant, former teacher and mother of four children in New Canaan Public Schools. You may email her with suggestions and comments at [email protected]