A moratorium on the state’s standardized testing frenzy would provide the funding needed to maintain critically important education and human service programs for Connecticut’s most vulnerable children.
As Connecticut policymakers confront a large and growing state budget deficit, veteran Hartford educator James Mulholland correctly recommends that the $17 million in taxpayer funds that are being wasted on the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing scheme should be used, instead, to stop the disastrous cuts that will actually hurt and limit opportunities for Connecticut’s poorest children.
James Mulholland writes;
As Connecticut’s lawmakers wrangle with the budget in the coming days, one area of the budget they have not yet considered for cuts is the state’s SBAC testing program. The state estimates it will spend $17 million developing and administering standardized tests during the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years. Advocates of standardized testing in general, and the SBAC in particular, have provided two primary justifications for the testing. The first is to identify underserved subgroups and thereby better address their educational needs. Advocates contend that the disparity in test scores, often referred to as the “achievement gap,” provides political leverage and forces politicians and other stakeholders to respond to the needs of historically underserved subgroups such as African-American, Hispanic, and low-income students.
Although the final numbers are still being debated, the state’s recent proposed budget cuts as reported by the CT Mirror include almost $24 million from the Office of Early Childhood and the departments of Social Services, Mental Health and Addiction Services, Public Health, and Children and Families. In addition $16.3 million would be cut from the Department of Education, including a $6 million cut in funding for magnet schools. (http://ctmirror.org/2015/11/16/in-departure-democratic-lawmakers-recommend-cuts-in-social-services-education/)
At the start of November, officials at the State Department of Education proposed eliminating a program that provides about 300 New Haven elementary students from low-income families with after-school homework help and access to extracurricular activities, such as African drumming, cooking and archaeology. Funding for separate after-school and summer camps that focus on engineering would also be eliminated. That cut would affect programs in Bloomfield, Bridgeport, Bristol, Danbury, Hartford, Meriden, Milford, Newington, New Britain, New Haven, Norwalk, Stamford and Waterbury. Other programs for which funding would be eliminated include: a family literacy program at John C. Clark Elementary and Middle School in Hartford; the extended day program at Lincoln-Bassett School in New Haven; and funding for reading instructional supports in some of the state’s lowest-performing schools would be cut by $250,000. (http://ctmirror.org/2015/11/04/education-department-reluctantly-identifies-4-5-million-in-cuts/)
What is the purpose of identifying underserved subgroups if the state is then going to turn around and cut funding for programs that address the educational needs of those students? Would we accept healthcare legislation that maintained spending for medical tests, but cut funding for the treatment of health issues diagnosed by those tests?
The SBAC test hasn’t revealed anything new about the state’s achievement gap. According to state data on the fourth grade math portion of the CMT in 2006, the gap in proficiency between African American students and their White counterparts was 32%, and the gap between Hispanic and White students was 28%. In reading, the gap in proficiency was 34% between African American and White students and 38% between White and Hispanic students. http://solutions1.emetric.net/cmtpublic/CMTCode/Report.aspx?data=1419936B4BADB47C8675E81D2E415ADA
Although the scores are lower on the SBAC test and the method of reporting the scores makes it difficult to make accurate comparisons, if we look at the state as a whole, the gap between these three groups hasn’t substantially changed in the past nine years. If we look at the state averages in math, the gap between African American students and White students is 36% and for Hispanic and White students it is 33%. In reading, the gap between White and African American students is 37% and between White and Hispanic students is 34%. Why should we continue to fund a testing regimen that year after year gives us the same results? http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/excel/smarterbalanced/settingthebaseline2015.xls>
The second frequently cited justification for the multi-state assessment is to give parents a better understanding of how our children perform academically as compared with their peers in other states. The two testing consortiums, PARCC and SBAC, to which Connecticut belongs, have seen a substantial reduction in the number of participating states. Roughly half the states that belonged to either SBAC or PARCC have since abandoned the consortiums. As a result, the ability for parents to compare their children’s academic performance by comparing test scores from state to state has been significantly compromised. Just last week, Massachusetts, which is considered to be the nation’s highest performing state, made the decision to abandon the multi-state PARCC test.
The state also plans to use SBAC scores in teacher evaluations. Connecticut received a waiver from the Federal Department of Education requirement that standardized testing data be used in evaluations during the 2015-16 school year. Despite the waiver, Connecticut hasn’t reversed its plan to use state testing data in teacher evaluations, a plan that was part of the sweeping education legislation enacted in 2012. Standardized testing has come under increasing scrutiny across the nation, particularly in its use for high-stakes decisions such as student promotion, in teacher evaluations, and for other school personnel decisions. Both the American Statistical Association, which is the largest organization in the United States representing statisticians and related professionals, and the American Educational Research Association have questioned the validity of using standardized test scores to measure teacher effectiveness and cautioned against using them for such purposes. Last week, a judge in New Mexico temporarily barred schools from using that state’s controversial test-based teacher evaluations to make personnel decisions, finding that the system is not as objective and uniform as state law requires. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2015/12/03/new-mexico-judge-hits-pause-on-controversial-test-based-teacher-evaluations/
In the current fiscal crisis, the state of Connecticut has to make some difficult budget-cutting decisions. Given the state’s budget problems and the evolution of the SBAC test, Connecticut should institute a moratorium on standardized testing. It has served few, if any, of the purposes its proponents claim. Instead, the state should redirect the money to fund educational programs that have a real and positive effect on the educational outcomes of Connecticut’s children.
Connecticut educator James Mulholland teaches in Hartford.
Editor’s Note: If legislators were committed to serving the people they are sworn to represent they would do exactly what James Mulholland is suggesting when they meet to vote on a deficit mitigation package at tomorrow’s Special Session of the Connecticut General Assembly.
Connecticut Elected Officials – Do the right thing!