From community forums to conference rooms at the Connecticut State Department of Education (SDE), there’s rising scrutiny about the number of tests being administered in public schools. There’s also growing resolve to do something about it.
A new SDE 11th Grade Assessment Working Group held its first meeting today and will be working through the spring. The committee is comprised of public education stakeholders, including CEA Executive Director Mark Waxenberg. “It’s a perfect opportunity to look at high school testing and also to look at testing longitudinally in other grades. That’s the long-term. This new working group has a much narrower change,” said Waxenberg.
Last spring, when most 11th graders took the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) pilot test as well as the SAT, the phone flew off the hook at the SDE with complaints about excessive testing. Many students were also taking Advanced Placement tests at the same time.
Partially in response, the Malloy administration appointed the new working group to look at alternative approaches to high school testing. One option is to discontinue SBAC in high school and have all students take the SAT, which the College Board is realigning with the new Common Core standards.
“There ought to be more instruction and less testing in our schools, and we ought to do this in a smart way, said outgoing State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor. “This effort will last beyond my tenure,” he added.
Standardized testing for accountability purposes is very important to the U.S. Department of Education, and which tests Connecticut administers will play a critical role in determining whether Connecticut gets another waiver from federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements. Connecticut’s latest waiver application is due to Washington in spring 2015, so the SDE’s 11th Grade Assessment Working Group is under a tight timeline to consult technical testing experts, the College Board, and others about the right testing approach for Connecticut high schools.
Educators on the working group have many concerns. One is whether the SAT ultimately will be adequately aligned to the Common Core standards. Another concern identified today involves coherence among what is being taught in high school, what is tested day-to-day, and what counts for federal and state accountability purposes. For example, what if state officials retained the SBAC interim assessments (available to schools from the SDE in January 2015), but used the SAT for summative purposes. That’s the kind of issue the working group has to examine.
SDE officials point out that the vast majority of tests are ones that districts decide to do on their own. Those officials encourage local educators to “prune away” unnecessary tests and are providing a mini-grant program to help.
CEA’s Waxenberg said a priority of any successful high-school testing program is relevance to teenagers. “What is the motivation for students to try their best? We have to send a clear message to students and their families about what is important and why,” he said.
If Connecticut were to implement the SAT for all 11th graders, it would be the first state to move in that direction. The working group meets again on December 18.