$17 million SBAC testing money should be used to prevent the terrible cuts to programs that actually help children.  (Guest Post by CT Educator James Mulholland)

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!

Yes we are failing our children…especially here in Connecticut

When Connecticut Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy took to the podium in February 2015 to announce his proposed austerity budget for the State of Connecticut he announced a plan in which more than half (54%) of his proposed budget cuts came from children’s programs.

More than half of Malloy’s total cuts aimed at programs to support children when, “spending on the ‘Children’s Budget’ – state government spending that directly benefits young people – makes up only a third of the overall state budget.”  [CT Voices]

In response to the criticism leveled at Malloy, a recent CTNewJunkie headline explained, “Malloy Administration Pitches ‘Lean’ Government, Denies Being Heavy Handed.”

Lean government, not being heavy handed?

According to recent economic data, the nation’s wealth grew by 60 percent over the past six years.  That translates into about $30 trillion of additional wealth, with the overwhelming majority of that money going to the country’s super rich.

During the same period, the number of homeless children grew by 60 percent. “For Every Two Homeless Children in 2006, There Are Now Three.” During this past winter approximately 138,000 children were defined as homeless by the US Department of Housing.

Children now account for nearly 50 percent the country’s food stamp recipients.  More than 16 million children get about $5 a day to pay for their meals, but that was before Congress and the President cut $8.6 billion from the food stamp program over the next ten years.

In 2007 about 12 in every 100 kids were on food stamps. Today that number stands at 20 in every 100 children.

According to UNICEF, the UN’s agency for children, the United States has one of the highest  child poverty rates in the developed world.  The report explains, “[Children’s] material well-being is highest in the Netherlands and in the four Nordic countries and lowest in Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and the United States.”

And Here in Connecticut… 

About 113,000 Connecticut children live in the lowest levels of poverty, or about 14.5 percent of all the state’s children…nearly one in every six children.

Connecticut’s child poverty rate is up nearly 50 percent from 2000 when the number of Connecticut children living in poverty was just over 10 percent.  At the time, Connecticut became the first state in the nation to adopt an official policy stating its goal was to reduce poverty by fifty percent by 2010.  Connecticut failed.  Rather than reducing child poverty by 50 percent, the level of child poverty has increased by 50 percent since we entered the 21st Century.

Today the level of child poverty is more than 47% in Hartford; 40% in Waterbury; and over 32% in Bridgeport, New Britain and New Haven.

Using a more appropriate definition of poverty, living under 200% of the federal poverty level, the harsh reality is that almost 1 in 3 Connecticut children are growing up at unacceptable levels of poverty.

Yet in the face of the mounting levels of child poverty, Connecticut Democratic Governor Dannel Malloy proposed more cuts to a variety of vital programs including those that are aimed at helping the state’s poorest children.

And is budget slashing comes despite the fact that Connecticut’s wealthiest taxpayers pay a far lower percent of their income in state and local taxes than the middle class and the poor and the rich are charged a much lower income tax rate then their brethren pay in New York and New Jersey.  The problem is that Malloy refuses to raise the income tax rate on the wealthy because, as he said before, he doesn’t want to “punish success.”

Connecticut’s elected officials can and must face the reality that we are failing our children.  They can start by requiring the state’s wealthiest residents to pay their fair share in taxes – thereby eliminating the need for cuts to children’s programs.  See – Democrats – Time to stop coddling the rich.

And as for Malloy, one wonders if his only defense is the fact that he is not alone in his disdain for truly putting children first on the political agenda…

What is perhaps the most telling point of all is that there are two nations in the World who have refused to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child — South Sudan and the United States. 

[Numbers about child poverty at the federal level come from A Nation’s Shame: Trillions in New Wealth, Millions of Children in Poverty.]