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CEA Urges State/Federal Authorities to Tread Carefully During Education Transition

CEA Vice President Jeff Leake

CEA Vice President Jeff Leake speaks on Connecticut’s proposal to seek a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education.

Connecticut must not use new Smarter Balanced test results in teacher evaluation and must not double test students in this very uncertain time as public schools try to transition to new standards and testing.

Those were just two of the strong statements delivered by CEA Vice President Jeff Leake today at a hearing at the State Department of Education (SDE) in Middletown. The hearing allowed public comment on Connecticut’s proposal to seek a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education on provisions of Title 1 that would allow flexibility in the administration and evaluation of statewide assessments.

The Connecticut State Board of Education on July 15 authorized the SDE commissioner to seek a federal waiver to provide Connecticut school districts flexibility on two fronts: administering just one test to students during the next school year—the Common Core-aligned Smarter Balanced Assessment or the CMT and CAPT—and giving local school districts the power to decide whether or not to include that test data in teachers’ evaluations.

Leake said the waiver addresses teachers’ concerns and allows additional time to collaborate and make adjustments to classroom instruction, provides more effective professional development, and improves schools’ technology infrastructure.

“The flexibility provides educators closest to the work with the ability to set reasonable expectations and the opportunity to align curriculum to the standards before students are tested on them,” said Leake.

Leake continued, “It would be tragic if new Smarter Balanced Assessments were used as high-stakes exams to punish, instead of encouraging students and teachers to reach even higher. To put it bluntly, there is a potential to test students and evaluate teachers based on scores on a test for which the curriculum has not been developed, let alone implemented. That would result in invalid assessments for students, unrealistic reports to parents, and unfair and negatively biased evaluations for teachers.”

Leake said CEA supports the CSDE’s proposal on flexibility for the following reasons:

  • It provides a one-year waiver from potentially having to double-test students.
  • It retains the 2012-13 federal accountability determinations acknowledging that student performance data will be limited in a period of transition.
  • It underscores that this year’s Smarter Balanced test results are inappropriate to be used in teacher evaluation.
  • It recognizes that adequate computer devices and network requirements absolutely must be in place before any new testing can commence.

SDE said it has no way of knowing when it will receive a response to its request for a waiver. But at the annual back-to-school meeting in August, SDE Commissioner Stefan Pryor said he is optimistic that Connecticut will ultimately receive federal approval. “We need to move ahead as if we’ve been approved and set forth guidelines for flexibility,” Pryor said.

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