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Finding a Better Way: New Testing Committee Gets Down to Work

CEA Policy Director Donald Williams and Windsor literacy coach Marcia Ferreira spoke with other members of the state Mastery Examination Committee today.

CEA Policy Director Donald Williams and Windsor literacy coach Marcia Ferreira represent CEA on the state Mastery Examination Committee.

Members of the new Mastery Examination Committee, created by the legislature to examine student assessment, pledged to do what’s best for children at their first meeting today in Hartford.

But there were no indications that the committee has consensus to act quickly to fix Connecticut’s flawed testing system that has SBAC as its centerpiece.

Educator Marcia Ferreira, a Windsor literacy coach, and Donald Williams, CEA’s director of Policy, Research and Reform, are CEA’s representatives on the committee. “We know the best way to assess students is to review their ongoing work rather than focus on a limited snapshot from a high-stakes, standardized test,” Ferreira said. “I welcome this opportunity to recommend better assessments.”

“The committee’s work will extend into January 2017,” Williams said. “Assessments should be valid and fair, and be designed for the benefit of students.”

CEA has raised strong concerns about the reliability and validity of SBAC, a lengthy computerized test.

At today’s meeting, Farmington Superintendent Kathleen Greider said her district assesses technology literacy among its students. “We found that schools that had very high scores on technology literacy did very well on SBA [SBAC], and the ones that did not score as well, did not do as well [on SBAC],”said Greider. She said Farmington has launched an inquiry into the role of computer literacy in SBAC scores, since all students are exposed to the same curriculum and instruction.

Williams told the committee, “What is the core purpose of these assessments, which then leads back to whether they are reliable, fair, and valid.” Williams asked whether it is appropriate to use the same test to evaluate the proficiency of principals, administers, and teachers, and whether the test is designed for that purpose.

Mastery Exam Comm Sept. 2015

The state Mastery Examination Committee held its first meeting today.

With the SAT looming as a statewide test for 11th graders this year, committee members underscored the unfair advantage of students whose parents can afford to enroll them in SAT prep classes. “That’s there for kids whose parents can afford it. It’s not there for kids whose parents can’t,” said Joseph Cirasuolo, the executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents.

He added, “And what I’m hearing from the Alliance District superintendents is, ‘our kids are behind the eight ball on this one.’ So something’s got to be done in the interest of equity to make available to kids whose parents can’t afford it, preparation programs that the other kids are going to have.”

Williams echoed those sentiments, “There are certainly questions as to how these tests can be gamed. Is it a test prep arms race of Kaplan courses and Princeton Review?”

While the committee’s charge is broad in scope, members indicated today that they will get back to basics before formulating any recommendations, raising the following issues as future committee topics: What is the purpose of testing? How do the testing experts attempt to validate new student tests? How does the state SBAC interface with local district interim and summative assessments?

Referring to the local-state interface, Greider said, “I think that has to be a discussion in this process because it’s an area of weakness, I would say, across the state, and not misusing assessments to make broad decisions about students.” 

Cirasuolo said, “Reaching consensus on the purpose of state testing won’t be easy.”

The committee must submit an interim report to the legislature on or before February 15, 2016. A final report is due on January 15, 2017.

The committee’s next meeting is scheduled for October 27, at the State Department of Education in Hartford.

  1. John Bestor #

    I am pleased that there will be a Committee studying the many controversies associated with these unnecessary and never-ending tests. I caution members to remember that the SBAC tests are psychometrically invalid and unreliable and ultimately unfair to students taking them. As long as the test company insists on keeping its underlying statistical data secret and unavailable for independent research verification, that cannot change and therefore the legitimacy of continuing this practice is wrought with dangers. The CEA through this Committee has an opportunity to push-back against a pernicious test protocol and take control of what our school children will really need to become informed and accomplished learners. I hope that the Committee is made up of those who actually instruct in classrooms at every level and represent the differing demographics of school districts across our State. Developing a fair assessment system that won’t discriminate against students less fortunate will not be possible under current testing schemes and will require a multi-pronged approach to assessment that is not favored by the “one-size-fits-all” mentality currently in place. Student performance and district accountability is necessary, but the paradigm needs to change as ten years of failed test practice has demonstrated. I encourage you to the “think out of the box” and show the courage of your convictions.

    September 23, 2015

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