What is the purpose of the State-sponsored Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) “Mastery” Test?

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The Common Core SBAC testing scheme is the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory annual testing system mandated by Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration.

Designed to fail a vast share of Connecticut’s students, the SBAC test is aligned to the Common Core, rather than what is actually taught in Connecticut’s classrooms.

If Governor Malloy and his allies in the corporate Education reform industry get their way, the SBAC test will continue to be used to rate and rank order students, teachers and schools.  For them, it is a mechanism to ensure students, and teachers are deemed to be failures, thereby paving the way to turn even more Connecticut public schools over to privately owned, but publicly funded charter school companies and others that seek to profit off the privatization of public education.

With the Connecticut legislature’s approval, the Malloy administration has been busy turning Connecticut’s public schools into little more than testing factories and profit centers for private entities, many of which have become some of Malloy’s biggest campaign donors.

One of the areas that remains unresolved is how the SBAC testing scam will be used in Connecticut’s teacher evaluation process.  Malloy and his ilk want to require that the results of the unfair tests be used as a key tool in determining how well teachers are doing in the classroom.

Teachers, their unions and public school advocates recognize that there are much better teacher evaluation models that could be used and don’t rely on the use of standardized tests to determine which teachers are succeeding, which teachers need additional training and which individuals should be removed from the classroom.

As the CT Mirror reported earlier this week in an article entitled, Grading teachers: Tempers flare over use of student test scores;

In 2010, state legislators created the PEAC (Performance Evaluation Advisory Council), to come up with guidelines for evaluating teachers. In January 2012, the panel agreed to have nearly one-quarter of a teachers’ rating linked to the state exam scores.

Consensus then vanished, however, after the governor proposed linking the new evaluations to teacher certification and pay, and union leaders grew wary that the tests were becoming too high stakes. Complicating the issue further was the rollout of a controversial new state exam that engendered even more skepticism among union officials and many teachers about using the tests for evaluations.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that the SBAC test is NOT an appropriate tool to evaluate teachers, the Malloy administration remains committed to implementing their policy of failure.

The controversy has meant that the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) has been unable to come to a consensus on how to proceed with the implementation of Malloy’s teacher evaluation plan.

As a way to move the debate forward, the Connecticut Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers tried, unsuccessfully, to use this week’s PEAC meeting to push the group to, at the very least, define what purpose of Connecticut’s so-called Mastery Testing system.

In a recent CEA blog post, the union explained that at the meeting CEA’s Executive Director told the group,

“The threshold question is, ‘What is the role of the mastery test?’ I hold that it’s to give a 50,000-foot view that can inform resource allocation, curriculum alignment, professional development, and instructional strategies at the district level, at the building level, or even the classroom level.”

Adding,

“That is where we gain knowledge about things like social justice, about fiscal or community needs…

The President of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, concurred saying that the tests

“were never designed to evaluate teachers,” adding, “If we return to that, we’re going to return to teachers teaching to the test, because their jobs depend on it.”

The CEA and AFT leadership are absolutely right on this one.

SBAC is an “inappropriate tool for evaluating teachers.”

As mentioned, there are plenty of teacher evaluation models that the state could and should be using.

Rather than maintaining their war on Connecticut’s children, teachers and schools, Connecticut’s elected and appointed officials should dump Malloy’s proposed teacher evaluation program and shift to one that is fair, efficient and effective.

With Election Day close at hand, candidates for the Connecticut State Senate and Connecticut House of Representatives should be making it clear that if elected on November 8th they’ll shift gears and actually do what is right for Connecticut’s students, teachers and public schools.

Opting out of testing in Connecticut — now a civic duty by Drew Michael McWeeney

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Drew Michael McWeeney is an Early Childhood Education major and teacher candidate at Southern Connecticut State University.  His powerful commentary piece first appeared in the CTMirror.  You can read and comment on it at: http://ctviewpoints.org/2016/10/13/opinion-drew-michael-mcweeney/

Opting out of testing in Connecticut — now a civic duty

Since implementation of the new teacher evaluation system by Gov. Dannel Malloy and the legislature, I have believed opting out of standardized testing was a student right. I now see it as a civic responsibility.

Under the current system, 45 percent of a teacher’s evaluation is based on student test scores. According to a 2014 Brookings Institute study, however, teachers can elect not to be evaluated on the scores if a significant number of students do not show up to take their standardized tests. This is because having too few test takers can cause the test data to produce false results, labeling a teachers’ classes either high- or low-performing incorrectly.

What Malloy and the legislature did was a direct attack on public education under the guise of raising standards. Because of this, here is the narrative the system creates: Since students are failing tests, teachers must be poor performers. Therefore since public school teachers are poor performers, let us close down public education and privatize public schools.

Having observed countless Connecticut classrooms, I can tell you that basing almost half of a teacher’s rating on student test scores is too much in the first place. Then, when Gov. Malloy makes it impossible for us teacher candidates and teachers to present other evidence to establish our effectiveness — by eliminating lesson plans from consideration, for example — he compounds the problem.

Finally, researchers at the University of Connecticut’s NEAG School of Education, in a study released last year, reported that only 58 percent of teachers surveyed felt the rating they received from the state’s new evaluation system was accurate. Of the 533 teachers surveyed, more than half found no added value in the time they spent on their evaluations.

With these and other problems, the teacher evaluation system is a catastrophe. Although our state tried addressing many shortcomings through customization, it is the highly-destructive effects of accountability reform that teachers must resist. I insist – must resist.

Yes, teachers need to be evaluated. I would expect nothing less in any job. It is even more critical, especially in fields such as education, when a teacher receives job protection under union contract. It costs school districts hundreds to thousands of dollars to both hire and retain teachers. You want to protect your community investment.

Now, I understand teachers have to follow their district evaluation plan or they could be fired for insubordination. However, what is interesting is that the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, formerly known as No Child Left Behind and now called Every Student Succeeds Act, does not require that teachers be evaluated by student test scores. That was what Race to the Top required in order for states to be eligible to apply for Race to the Top money; so states incorporated student test scores in their teacher evaluation process.

Is it time for the fight to end? No. This is only the beginning. We need to fight this war on common sense. We need to fight the war Connecticut and other states, such as New York, have declared on public education by supporting a better, fairer, evaluation system for teachers. Before we demand better comprehensive education reform, we must shout battle cries of “Opt-Out.”

We need these evaluations to fail if we want public school teachers to succeed.

Judge botched rulings on education policy by Wendy Lecker

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Education advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker returns to the recent CCJEF v. Rell legal decision in her weekend piece in the Stamford Advocate.  You can read and comment on her piece at:  http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Judge-botched-rulings-on-education-9945947.php

Judge botched rulings on education policy by Wendy Lecker

In issuing his decision in the CCJEF school-funding case last month, Judge Thomas Moukawsher claimed he was faithfully following the dictates of the Connecticut Supreme Court. However, it is clear that the judge ignored a major warning by our highest court: that the judiciary is “ill-equipped” to deal with educational policy matters. Nowhere is this disregard of the court’s warning more evident than in Moukawsher’s rulings on high school and teacher evaluation. In these rulings, the judge contravened the mountain of academic and experiential evidence showing that what he proposes is dead wrong.

First, the judge declared that Connecticut should institute standardized high school exit exams. The judge decided that because Connecticut does not have “rational” and “verifiable” high school standards, meaning standards measured by a high school exit exam, Connecticut diplomas for students in poor districts are “patronizing and illusory.” He concluded that the cure for this problem is standardized, “objective” exams that students must pass to graduate.

In pushing this proposal, the judge relied heavily on one defense witness, Dr. Eric Hanushek, a witness whose testimony has been flatly rejected in school funding cases across the country. Hanushek claimed that Massachusetts’ status as the “education leader” in the country was a result of instituting an exit exam.

Had the judge examined the evidence, however, he would have discovered that Massachusetts’ high school exit exam has increased dropout rates for the state’s most vulnerable students. In fact, as the New America Foundation reported, decades of research on exit exams nationwide show two things: students are not any better off with exit exams, and exit exams have a disproportionately negative impact on the graduation rates of poor students and students of color. That is why the trend among states is to drop exit exams. Exit exams would widen the graduation gap in Connecticut.

Again, had the judge examined the evidence, he would have also learned that the actual major factor in Massachusetts’ improvement was the very measure he refused to order Connecticut to implement: school finance reform that dramatically increased the amount of school funding statewide. No fewer than three studies have shown that increasing school funding significantly improved student achievement in Massachusetts. Recent major studies confirmed those findings nationwide, demonstrating that school finance reform has the most profound positive impact among poor students.

The judge also missed the mark by a wide margin in his ruling on teacher evaluations; which again he insisted be “rational and “verifiable” from his unstudied perspective. Anyone who has been paying attention to education matters the past few years has surely noticed the understandable uproar over the attempt to rate teachers based on student standardized test score “growth.”

Experts across the country confirm, as the American Statistical Association pointed out, that a teacher has a tiny effect on the variance in student test scores: from 1 percent to 14 percent. Thus, it is now widely understood that any system that attempts to rate teachers on student test scores, or the “growth” in student test scores, is about as “rational” and “verifiable” as a coin toss.

Courts that have actually examined the evidence on systems that rate teachers on student test scores have rejected these systems. Last year, a court in New Mexico issued a temporary injunction barring the use of test scores in that state’s teacher evaluation system. And in April, a court in New York ruled that a teacher’s rating based on her students’ “growth” scores — the foundation of New York’s teacher evaluation system — was “arbitrary and capricious;” the opposite of “rational” and “verifiable.”

Yet despite the reams of evidence debunking the use of student growth scores in evaluating teachers, and despite these two court rulings, Judge Moukawsher insisted that rating teachers on student “growth” scores would satisfy his demand that Connecticut’s system for hiring, firing, evaluating and compensating teachers be “rational” and “verifiable.” His ruling defies the evidence and logic.

These and all of the judge’s other rulings are now being appealed to the Connecticut Supreme Court by both sides: the state and the CCJEF plaintiffs. One can only hope that that our highest court will steer this case back on course, away from these ill-advised educational policy rulings and toward a proper finding that the state is failing to provide our poorest schools with adequate funding and is consequently failing to safeguard the educational rights of our most vulnerable children.

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.  Her column  can be found at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Judge-botched-rulings-on-education-9945947.php

Attention Connecticut:  SATs are WORTHLESS – A report by whistleblower Manuel Alfaro

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Tomorrow, October 1, 2016, thousands of Connecticut children will – once again – be taking the SATs in the hopes of acquiring a high enough score that they can attend the college of their choice.

However, more and more colleges and universities are going test optional.  According to Fairtest, the national test monitoring entity, more than 900 colleges and universities across the country have dropped the requirement that students provide an SAT or ACT test score with their application. Colleges have taken this step because they recognize that it is a student’s grade point average – not their standardized test score – that is the best predictor of how well a student will do in college.

Meanwhile, it was just last year that Governor Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly mandated that every Connecticut high school junior take the SAT, despite the fact that the overwhelming evidence is that the test is unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory, not to mention, it is designed to fail a vast number of children.

Instead of promoting a sophisticated student and teacher evaluation program, Malloy and other proponents of the corporate education reform agenda have been pushing a dangerous reliance on standardized testing as one of the state’s primary mechanisms to judge and evaluate students, teachers and public school.

Below are two statements that were recently posted by Manuel Alfaro on his LinkedIn account.  Alfaro is an outspoken whistleblower and critic of the College Board and their SAT.

Before coming forward to report the College Board’s unethical, and arguably illegal activities, Alfaro served as the Executive Director of Assessment Design & Development at The College Board (The SAT).

Considering Connecticut’s public officials made a profound mistake by mandating that schools use the SAT scores to evaluate students and teachers, Mr. Alfaro’s information and warnings are particularly important.

Manuel Alfaro Post #1

Residents of CO, CT, DE, IL, ME, MI, and NH, the heads of the Department of Education of your states have failed to protect the best interests of your students and your families, opting instead to protect their own interests and the interests of the College Board.

Over the last five months, I have written about several serious problems with the redesigned SAT. The problems include:

  • Development processes that do not meet industry standards; false claims made (in public documents) by the College Board about those processes; false claims made (in state proposals and contracts) by the College Board about those processes.
  • Poor quality of items—documented in letters and comments from content committee members.
  • Extensive revisions of a large percentage of operational items—the College Board claims that this happens only on the RAREST of occasions.
  • Test speediness resulting from the use of the wrong test specifications during the construction of operational SAT forms—use of the wrong specifications resulted in operational tests that, according to formal timing studies conducted by the College Board, require an additional 21-32 minutes (on top of the 80 minutes already allowed) to complete.

Under normal circumstances, the department of education of the client states would have imposed heavy penalties on the College Board; suspended administration of the flawed SATs; and demanded immediate corrective actions.

For example, in 2010, the state of Florida fined Pearson nearly $15 million, which Pearson paid. (Source: www.tampabay.com/news/education/k12/florida-hits-fcat-contractor-pearson-with-another-12-million-in-penalties/1110688.) The nearly $15 million fines were imposed because the FCAT results were delivered late. Imagine what the fines would have been if the problems had been as severe as the ones I’ve disclosed about the SAT.

The reason you are not seeing this type of reaction from the states administering the SAT for accountability is that they are partly responsible for the problem. Allow me to elaborate: Typically, to protect both the state and the testing company, an assessment contract that includes the use of an assessment created for the intent and purpose of college admission, not state accountability, would include a clause requiring that the test items be reviewed and approved for use by a content committee from the client state.

This additional step, however, costs money; requires that custom SAT forms are created for each state; and impacts administration schedules. So, even though it is in the best interest of the state, the College Board, and—most importantly—students, state officials opted not to do it. What are the ramifications of this decision?

  • The inclusion of items unfit for use in the target state
  • Performance level descriptors that are meaningless
  • Students spending time on items that should not have been included on the test
  • Teachers being evaluated (partially) using results from tests that may or may not accurately assess student performance

To illustrate the 4 points above, consider the following item (from Practice SAT Forms):

This item targets two different clusters of the Common Core Standards for Math:

Understand and apply theorems about circles

Find arc lengths and areas of sectors of circles

If students get this item wrong, it is impossible to tell whether students got it wrong because they don’t understand and are unable to apply theorems about circles to determine the measure of angle O or because they are unable to compute the length of minor arc LN, after they’ve determined the measure of angle O.

To be included in a state assessment, items have to clearly align to a single standard. The item in this example cannot be aligned even to a single cluster, much less the individual standards within each of the two clusters. Thus, this item would be deemed to exceed the content limits of the standards and would be excluded from inclusion on the state tests.

If students get this item wrong, the performance level descriptor associated with their scores will state that the students are unable to compute arc lengths; they are unable to apply theorems about circles; or both. But this is meaningless as it is impossible to determine what exactly led to the incorrect answer.

This impacts teachers in a similar way: You cannot tell if they are doing a great job at teaching students to compute arc lengths; apply theorems about circles; neither; or both. How useful are the teacher reports generated from an assessment that includes such items? They certainly cannot be used to let teachers know what they need to improve on.

The SAT contains many items like the one in the example above. University researchers should analyze all the practice SAT tests to determine the full scope of the problem. If I continue to provide examples, we will get more of the same glib responses from the College Board.

Next Steps

Demand that the heads of department of education of your states take immediate action by either:

  • Suspending SAT administrations until the College Board addresses the problems
  • Resigning, and letting an individual willing to protect the interests of your students and families take over (and fix the problems).

Manuel Alfaro Post #2

To minimize advantages resulting from the use of calculators with computer algebra systems (CAS), the College Board uses a simple trick to keep students from directly solving math questions using their CAS calculators. For example, in Item 1 below the correct solution requires a simple substitution before solving a linear equation. This item is counted towards one of the “linear equation” dimensions under Heart of Algebra. However, that simple substitution (“k=3”) makes this item a system of equations (see Item 29 below, for an example of a similar item with a different arrangement of the equations), which makes it count toward a different dimension within Heart of Algebra.

(Source: SAT Practice)

As the College Board uses this trick frequently, each operational form contains several items that are artificially “enhanced” to defeat CAS advantages. This leads to the construction of operational SAT forms that do not meet SAT content specifications because the “enhanced” items are misaligned. In the case of the form containing Item 1, the form would have too few items targeting the “linear equations” dimension and too many items targeting the “system of equations” dimensions. In some cases (Item 9, below), the enhancements push the items completely outside the scope of the entire SAT content specifications—this item should not have been included in the test at all, as it is a system of more than two equations.

(Source: SAT Practice)

Items like these are unfit for use under the classification the College Board originally assigned them because they target two different skills. As I mentioned on my September 26, 2016 post, if students get these items wrong, it is impossible to tell whether it is due to their inability to solve equations or their inability to evaluate expressions. Sadly, these enhanced items don’t promote best instructional practices, as the College Board aims to do.

In any case, the inclusion of these types of items results in SAT operational forms that are not:

  • Parallel psychometrically, as the pretest item statistics were invalidated when the College Board revised the items (and did not pretest them again) during operational form construction;
  • Parallel content-wise, as each operational form may contain several items that are misclassified or are beyond the scope of the SAT content specifications.

What does this mean? It means that the SATs are WORTHLESS; INDEFENSIBLY WORTHLESS.

Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers and public school deserve better.  Governor Malloy and Connecticut’s elected officials should immediately repeal the requirement that Connecticut students take the SAT and replace that mandate with an evaluation system that actually measures whether students are learning what is being taught in Connecticut’s classrooms.

Top Utah Republicans join corporate education reform groups to attack anti-Common Core school board candidates

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In May 2016 Utah’s Republican Governor, Gary Herbert, called on the Utah Board of Education to, “move past Common Core standards and get rid of mandatory SAGE testing for high school students.”

Governor Herbert wrote,

“I am asking the State Board of Education to consider implementing uniquely Utah standards, moving beyond the Common Core to a system that is tailored specifically to the needs of our state.”

The Utah Governor’s strong action in opposition to the Common Core standards and its related Common Core testing scheme won him praise from conservatives and educators, but some of the state’s top Republicans are now joining the Utah business community and the state’s corporate education reform allies to try and keep pro-Common Core incumbents on the Utah Board of Education.

Following the loss of some pro-Common Core incumbents during the state’s summer primary, corporate education reform allies are now raising money to defend the remaining pro-Common Core, pro-corporate education reform candidates on the Utah School Board.

Earlier this month, Utah Policy.com, a Utah based political blog reported,

“Get ready for partisan, big money, races for the Utah State School Board…

[…]

[T]the primary race this year caught some GOP leaders off guard, as several well-liked (at least on Capitol Hill) incumbents were beaten June 28.

And now a “last ditch” effort is being made to save a few of the other incumbents as a group of business/reform groups are looking to raise money and set up PACs to help those endangered school board members.

Utah Policy.com added;

Over the weekend a quickly-formed school board candidate fund-raiser was put together by the Utah Technology Council, among others, with House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, called in to help raise money for some of the remaining school board incumbents feeling the heat from the Utah Education Association – the main teacher union in the state.

For Hughes it is an old battle – remember the failed private school voucher fight of 2007?

There are eight seats on the Utah School Board this year.  The Utah Education Association, which endorsed Republican Governor Gary Herbert against his Democratic rival Mike Weinholtz, this year, is supporting candidates in six of those races.

Rather than find common ground with the teacher’s union over support for the governor and opposition to the Common Core, the Republican elected officials and corporate education reform advocacy groups are now targeting the union endorsed candidates for defeat, including those that are running on an anti-Common core agenda.

As one Utah based anti-Common Core group posted, Common Core’s Role in Hot State School Board Race,

The State School Board race has never drawn much attention before. But this year, the Salt Lake Tribune reported, businesses and even top-tier elected officials are personally campaigning and fundraising for and against certain candidates.

Yesterday’s headline was: “Niederhauser and Hughes ask Business Leaders to Help Defeat UEA-Backed School Board Candidates“.  Yesterday, too, business organizations such as the Utah Technology Council and the School Improvement Association joined Niederhauser and Hughes in a fundraising webinar that promoted a slate of pro-Common Core candidates who happen to be not favored by or funded by national teacher’s unions.

The anti-common Core blogger added,

“…I don’t understand why these groups have chosen to campaign against both the anti-Common Core candidates as well as against the UEA-backed candidates…

[…]

Nor do I understand why our House Speaker and Senate President don’t see the hypocrisy in speaking against big money buying votes (NEA) while both of them are personally funded by big business money (Education First).

But my bigger questions are: how do the Speaker and the Senate President dare to campaign for Common Core candidates, thus going directly against Governor Herbert’s call to end Common Core alignment in Utah?

How do they dare campaign against the resolution of their own Utah Republican Party that called for the repeal of the Common Core Initiative?

Have they forgotten the reasons that their party is strongly opposed to all that the Common Core Initiative entails?

Have they forgotten Governor Herbert’s letter that called for an end to Common Core and SAGE testing just four months ago? (See letter here.)  For all the talk about wanting to move toward local control and to move against the status quo, this seems odd.

Of course, the answer to the anti-Common Core blogger’s lament is that the Common Core has always had strong support from mainstream Republicans.  In fact, it was George W. Bush’s administration that helped foist the Common Core and Common Core testing program upon the nation.

It should come as no surprise to the education advocates in Utah that even when their Republican governor calls for an end to the Common Core, there will be some top Republican leaders, along with the business community and pro-corporate education reform groups, that would seek to undermine his position.

The sad reality is that when it comes to the federalization and privatization of public education, many Republican and Democratic elected officials have no problem undermining their local students, parents, teachers and public schools.

Will the SAT become Rhode Island’s high school “exit exam”?

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Check out the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) website and you’ll see that they proudly declare that;

Rhode Island has implemented a statewide diploma system to ensure access for all middle and high school students to rigorous, high quality, personalized learning opportunities and pathways.

An announcement about the details surrounding the “new diploma system” is expected later this fall, now that the public comment process on the proposed regulations has concluded (Rhode Islanders had until September 15, 2016 to weigh in on the propose changes).

Earlier this month, pro-education reform governor Gina Raimondo, whose husband is part of the education reform and charter school industry, announced that she was “open” to using the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory SAT testing scheme as a graduate requirement in Rhode Island.

As numerous academic studies have revealed, grade point averages, not standardized test scores are the best predictors of college success.

In fact, these studies show that the SAT correlates with the income of the student’s parents and does not predict how a student will do in College.

Over the last few years, more than 850 colleges and universities have decided not to require applicants to even provide SAT scores and this list includes well over 180 “top-tier” universities and colleges.

But defending her indefensible position, Governor Raimondo claimed that the NEW SAT was better because it was aligned to the Common Core, a statement that indicates how little the governor understands about the shortcomings associated with the Common Core and its Common Core testing scheme.

Rhode Island state officials had already announced plans to drop the requirement that students pass the Common Core PARCC tests in order to graduate, a decision they reached based on the evidence that the PARCC test is not an appropriate indicator of what the child has been taught or whether they are college ready.

Why Governor Raimondo is “open” to the use of the SAT is a sad reminder about the level of ignorance on the part of some elected officials in this country.  It is also an indicator that far too many officials see students are little more than profit centers for the charter school and corporate education reform industries.

Want to know how a student is doing? Forget the SBAC or SAT test – Ask a teacher

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In a recent press release, Governor Dannel Malloy and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman pontificated about their effort to measure every child, teacher and public school by the score students received on this year’s Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test.

Wyman said,

“These successes are valuable indicators that we are on the right track today, and they position us for a stronger tomorrow.”

However, in the real world, the results from the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC testing scheme is hardly a valuable indicator nor does it suggest we are on the right track to anything other than forcing schools to develop better systems for teaching to the test.

As Connecticut public education advocate and columnist Wendy Lecker wrote in a Stamford Advocate in August 2015, instead of looking to an unfair testing scam for guidance about student performance, If you Want to know how a student is doing? Ask a teacher.

Last year, Wendy Lecker wrote;

A friend of mine had a priceless reaction to the specious claim by education reformers that our children need standardized tests so parents can know how they are doing in school. He laughed and said that in 20 years of parent conferences no teacher ever felt the need to pull out his children’s standardized tests to provide an accurate picture of how well they were learning.

Parents have relied on teachers’ assessments to gauge their children’s progress and most have pretty much ignored their children’s standardized test scores. For decades, this approach has served parents and students well. Recent research shows that non-standardized, human assessments of student learning are superior to standardized tests of all kinds.

I have written about the voluminous evidence showing that a high school GPA is the best predictor of college success, and that the SAT and ACT, by contrast, are poor predictors. (http://bit.ly/1K7CNzG)

Even standardized college placement tests, tests ostensibly designed to measure “college readiness,” fail miserably at that task — with real and damaging consequences for students.

College remediation is often used as a weapon by education reformers. Overstating college remediation rates was one of the tactics used by Arne Duncan to foment hysteria about the supposedly sorry state of America’s public schools and justify imposing the Common Core and its accompanying tests nationwide. As retired award-winning New York principal Carol Burris has written, while Duncan and his allies claimed that the college remediation rate is 40 percent, data from the National Center on Education Statistics show that the actual percentage is 20 percent.

Exaggeration is not the only problem with college remediation. Many of the students placed in remedial classes in college do not even belong there.

Judith Scott-Clayton of Columbia’s Teachers’ College and her colleagues examined tens of thousands of college entrants and found that one-quarter to one-third of those placed in remedial courses based on standardized placement tests were mis-assigned. These students wrongly placed in remedial classes could have passed a college- level course with a B or better. Moreover, when students are mis-assigned to remedial courses, the likelihood of them dropping out of college increases by eight percentage points. These high-stakes tests produce high-cost errors.

Scott-Clayton and her colleagues found that by incorporating high school grades into the college placement decisions, misplacements were corrected by up to a third, and there was a 10-percentage point increase in the likelihood that those students placed in a college-level course would complete that course with a grade of C or better.

Once again, non-standardized, human assessments of a student’s learning are more helpful than standardized tests.

Some institutions are getting that message. After California’s Long Beach City College began incorporating high school grades into placement decisions, the rate of students who placed into and passed college English quadrupled. The rate for math tripled. Just last month, George Washington University joined the long and growing list of colleges and universities that dropped the requirement for SAT or ACT scores.

These institutions of higher education understand that standardized tests are poor predictors “college readiness” and that high school grades are superior.

Yet too many policymakers cling to the failed strategy of using standardized tests to try to tell us what teachers are much better at telling us. Congress is set to reaffirm the requirement that states administer annual standardized tests, even though the data show that a child who passes one year is very likely to pass the next. Washington, West Virginia and California announced plans to use the not-yet validated and increasingly unpopular SBAC test in its college placement decisions.

California announced this move even as it is considering ceasing the use of SBACs to judge schools. Equally hypocritical, Washington State’s Board of Education just announced that it is lowering the SBAC high school passing score below the “college-ready” level arbitrarily adopted by the SBAC consortium last year.

Amid opt-outs and outrage at the SBACs, Connecticut passed a law replacing the un-validated 11th grade SBAC with the SAT as a required high school test; even though the SAT has been proven to have little predictive value for determining college success.

The key to ensuring and determining college readiness is clearly not high-stakes error-prone standardized tests. If politicians really want to understand how to prepare our children for college, maybe they should try a new — for them- approach and consult experts with a great track record of knowing what makes kids college-ready. Maybe they should ask some teachers.

You can read Wendy Lecker’s full column on the issue at: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Want-to-know-how-a-student-is-6431076.php

Hey Malloy, what’s the deal with the new Common Core SBAC test results?

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With great fanfare and self-congratulations, Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration recently released the results of last springs’ Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests. Their claim is that the Governor’s anti-teacher, anti-public education, pro-charter school agenda is succeeding.

The SBAC test is succeeding?

The Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing scheme is the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory national testing system that the Malloy administration instituted and are now being used to evaluate and label students, teachers and public schools.

As if to give the charade some credibility, Governor Malloy, Lt. Governor Wyman and their team call it Connecticut’s “Next Generation Accountability System.”

However, the testing and evaluation system is a farce that fails to properly measure how students, teachers and schools are really doing, nor does it properly evaluate the impacts that are associated with poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs.

To showcase the extraordinary problems with Malloy’s testing scheme, the following chart highlights the results from two of Malloy’s favorite charter schools, the Achievement First Hartford charter school and the Achievement First New Haven charter school, which is called Amistad Academy.

Percent of students reaching “proficiency” in Math as measured by the 2015 SBAC tests;

DISTRICT GRADE 3 GRADE 4 GRADE 5 GRADE 6 GRADE 7 GRADE 8
Achievement First Inc. Hartford  

56.8%

 

44.4%

 

16.2%

 

20.3%

 

17.5%

 

33.9%

Achievement First Inc. New Haven – Amistad Academy  

63.3%

 

54.4%

 

34.4%

 

40.0%

 

46.1%

 

46.9%

 

Here are the core results;

  • Approximately 60% of students in both charter schools were labeled “proficient” in MATH in grade 3.
  • The percent deemed “proficient” dropped by about 10 points in Grade 4.
  • The percent “proficient” dived in Grade 5, with only 1 in 6 students deemed “proficient” in Hartford and only 1 in 3 at the “proficient” level in New Haven.
  • The number reaching a “proficient” level remained extremely low at Achievement First Hartford in grades 6, 7 and 8.
  • While the percent of students labeled proficient in at Achievement First New Haven was slightly better than its sister school in Hartford, less than 50% percent of Amistad Academy’s 6th, 7th and 8th grade students were deemed to be “proficient.”

According to Malloy’s policies, these SBAC results allow us to determine how students are doing, whether teachers are performing adequately and whether any individual school should be labeled a great school, a good school, a school that is doing fairly well or a failing school.

So, according to Malloy, which of the following statements are true;

  1. As measured by the SBAC proficiency number, while students at these two Achievement First schools are doing “okay” in grade 3, the two schools are falling short in Grades 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.
  1. The results indicate that Achievement First Inc. has apparently hired talented teachers in grade 3, but the results prove that teachers in grade 4-8 are simply not equipped or capable to do their job. Grade 5 teachers are particularly weak, but the data indicates that Achievement First’s teachers should be evaluated as ineffective and the charter school chain should remove and replace all teachers other than those teaching in grade 3.
  1. Achievement First, Inc. proclaims that their students do much better on standardized tests, however, the SBAC results reveal that they are failing and should be labeled as failing schools.

According to Connecticut policymakers, all three statements are true, but of course, the truth is much more complex and the test results provide no meaningful guidance on what is actually going on in the classrooms.

Perhaps most disturbing of all is that these results provide no useful information about the impact of poverty, language barriers and unmet special education needs

One question rises to the top.

What if the students and teachers are not the problem? What if the problem is that the testing scam really is unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory and that the entire situation is made worse by Malloy’s absurd “Next Generation” Accountability system?

Washington – First mandate annual testing, then allocate $9 Million to reduce the “Assessment Burden.”

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Call it the American Way!

President Obama and a bi-partisan coalition of Republican and Democratic members of Congress used the Every Child Succeeds Act to mandated that no child go untested each and every year, despite the overwhelming evidence that the Common Core standardized testing scheme is unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory, not to mention a waste of hundreds of millions of dollars.

But now, in a yet another blatant effort to be as two-faced as possible, the Obama administration has announced a new $9 million “Enhanced Assessment Instruments Grant program” to assist states in efforts to “reduce the assessment burden.”

Mandate everyone gets tested, then allocate a few dollars to promote alternatives…

The school technology publication called, The Journal, reports that,

The Enhanced Assessment Instruments Grant program is the next step in the president’s action plan to improve the quality of academic assessments.”

The article adds;

The grant program builds on President Obama’s Testing Action Plan released last year. The plan aims to reform redundant standardized tests that are administered too frequently and fail to effectively measure student outcomes. As the next step in the plan, the Enhanced Assessment Instruments grant program, also called the Enhanced Assessment Grants (EAG) program, offers financial support for states to develop and use more effective assessments.

“The President’s Testing Action Plan encourages thoughtful approaches to assessments that will help to restore the balance on testing in America’s classrooms by reducing unnecessary assessments while promoting equity and innovation,” said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. in a news release. “This grant competition is the next step as part of that plan, and will help states and districts improve tests to allow for better depiction of student and school progress so that parents, teachers and communities have the vital information they need on academic achievement.”

The press release goes on to inform State education agencies and state education consortiums that;

Applicants that address these program objectives “by producing significant research methodologies products or tools, regarding assessment systems, or assessments,” will be chosen to receive funding for their projects, according to the department’s website.

Applications are available on Aug. 8. Applicants must submit proposals for the EAG competition by Sept. 22 and winners will be announced in January.

Chauk one more up for the greed and deceptiveness of the education testing industry and their corporate education reform allies in and of government.

REQUIRING THE SAT GETS CONNECTICUT LESS THAN NOTHING (By Ann Cronin)

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Repost from Ann Cronin’s blog…

Big News! It was on the front page of the The Hartford Courant, reported on in all the other state newspapers, and featured on the Connecticut State Department of Education website:

Nearly 66% of 11th graders met the state standards for English and 40% met the state standards for math on the 2016 SAT.

And what does that tell us about what Connecticut has gained from fully funding the SAT for all high school juniors?

Absolutely nothing.

It was a waste of taxpayer money.

First of all, it doesn’t tell us anything about who is ready for college. The SAT is based on the Common Core Standards, which Connecticut has taken as its own. The Common Core Standards lack validity and reliability. Common Core Standards were written, without input from educators at the K-12 or college level, by employees of testing companies and companies that analyze standardized test data. They were never field-tested to see if being successful with those standards makes for achievement in college. So we don’t know if we should be happy if students score well because it could be that they succeeded at something that is innocuous at best and inferior education at worst.

We do know that getting a high score on the SAT gives us no information about the students’ ability to ask their own questions, make their own connections, and construct their own meaning as they read, or express their own ideas as they write in a personal voice because the Common Core rejects those skills. And we do know that those are skills needed for college. Therefore, SAT scores don’t tell us if students will be successful in college.

Secondly, this SAT does not allow for comparisons because it is a new test. Scores cannot be compared to the SAT of past years. It has different content and a different way of being scored than past tests. Also, the student population taking the SAT has changed. Previously, 82% of high school juniors took the SAT; in 2016, with the new requirement,  94 % took the test. So with different content, scoring, and test-taking populations, no conclusions about student improvement or decline can be made.

Thirdly, some may say we need the SAT to ascertain how Connecticut is doing as compared to other states, but we have the National Assessment of Educational Progress, considered the Nation’s Report Card, that gives state-by-state reports. NAEP tests students in reading and math and scores them, based on college readiness. There is no charge to the state or local districts. Individual scores are not reported so there is no punishments for students. Best of all, there is no class time sacrificed to prepare for the tests because, during the school year, districts do not know if they are to be tested that year.

Fourthly, the SAT is not the necessity it once was. Increasingly, high school students do not need SAT scores for their college applications. Colleges and universities are realizing the limits of standardized tests as indicators of a prospective student’s academic promise and intellectual strength. Currently, 850 colleges and universities, including 210 in the “top tier”, do not require SAT or ACT scores for admission to bachelor degree programs. The research is clear, and colleges and universities are responding to it: High school grade point average is the predictor of success in college, not standardized tests.

So why does the State of Connecticut mandate that all high school juniors take the SAT?

The only reason left is the one politicians love to herald: To close the achievement gap.

Only those who have never taught students could give that answer. Educators know that there is no way that any set of standards or any standardized test has ever or will ever overcome the damage of poverty and racism. In fact, mandating standardized tests reinforces that damage and tells many impoverished students and students of color that they do not belong in the mainstream. Standardized test scores, including the SAT, are always correlated with the income of students’ parents. With the current 2016 SAT, school districts with higher scores include the affluent towns of Darien, Simsbury, Westport, and Wilton; school districts with lower scores include the cities of Hartford, Waterbury, and Bridgeport with their high rates of poverty. And so it has ever been.

Students with parents who have the time, the energy, the money, and the benefits from their own higher education to enrich the lives of their children and support them in school will always score higher than most students whose parents do not have those advantages. How could it be otherwise?

So mandating the SAT is not even a neutral event; it actually does harm. It limits the curriculum for all students, affluent and poor, and turns the curriculum into test prep. It does added harm to those students most in need because the cost of the tests, test prep materials, and the technology to administer the tests takes financial resources away from addressing their needs propelled by poverty and racism.

There is a path forward. Connecticut must:

  1. End the Common Core test-and-punish approach. We must recognize that we are foolishly spending millions of dollars on SBAC and the SAT, and it gains nothing for us as a state. The tests reinforce Connecticut’s shame: unconscionable income inequality.
  2. End the Common Core test-and-punish approach because it denies our children a real education as learners and thinkers that they deserve.
  3. Use the money now spent on testing to invest in what has been proven to improve student achievement. It is what every teacher knows works: positive relationships with adults in schools. Educators know that having those positive relationships with adults engages students in school, inspires them to want to learn, and gives them the skills to succeed and live productive lives. According to Wendy Lecker, senior attorney at the Education Law Center in Stamford, CT, researchers have identified three ways to foster those adult/student relationships:
  • Provide developmentally appropriate preschool in which the emphasis is on play.
  • Mandate small class size in grades K-12.
  • Reduce the student caseload of guidance counselors.

Let’s put our money where we are sure we can make a difference. It’s time to stop spending money and getting nothing for it. And, worse yet, spending money and getting less than nothing by hurting our most precious resource as a state: our children.

Ann Policelli Cronin is a Connecticut educator, education advocate and education blogger.  You can read her writing at: https://reallearningct.com/

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