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Growth Over Time on SBAC—A False Promise for Students Not at Grade Level

Members of CEA's Ethnic Minority Affairs Commission Juanita Harris, Anthony Thomas, and Mia Dimbo speak with WNPR reporter David DesRoches. Also pictured (at left) is CEA Policy Director Donald Williams.

Members of CEA’s Ethnic Minority Affairs Commission Juanita Harris, Anthony Thompson, and Mia Dimbo spoke with reporters including WNPR’s David DesRoches. Also pictured (at left) is CEA Policy Director Donald Williams.

“Teachers are all for accountability that’s going to be valid,” Bridgeport math teacher Mia Dimbo told reporters and legislators this morning. “We want to be accountable with something that really measures our success.”

Dimbo and other members of CEA’s Ethnic Minority Affairs Commission came to Hartford today to share their perspectives on bills to decouple SBAC permanently from teachers’ evaluations and improve the recruitment and retention of minority teachers.

At schools in Connecticut’s urban centers, many students come to kindergarten without high-quality preschool experiences and already “behind” on many conventional measures of school readiness. Unfortunately, when schools don’t have the resources to provide the individualized academic instruction and social and emotional supports many students need, the students fall farther behind.

Dimbo said that at Wilbur Cross School, where she works, there is no full-time guidance counselor, social worker, or school psychologist, and there are insufficient numbers of paraprofessionals and interventionists. Teachers, therefore, are left to carry a heavy load—addressing a wide variety of student needs that go far beyond the academic realm.

“Student learning problems often have their roots in stressful family situations, economic pressures, or emotional turmoil. We need urban schools with racially sensitive teachers who can address the needs of the whole student,” said Stamford teacher Anthony Thompson.

Those who advocate for the use of SBAC in teachers’ evaluations laud the test’s ability to show student growth over time. However, that evidence of growth turns out to be a false promise for many special education students, English language learners, and other students who are below grade level.

A study commissioned by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Coalition states, “The test will not measure the actual skill levels of students whose achievement is far above or far below their grade levels, since they will not encounter many items that accurately measure their actual levels of achievement. Thus, while the test will accurately describe the student’s knowledge of grade level and near–grade level content, the test will not be as sensitive a measure of growth for these students.”

In other words, if SBAC scores were to be part of teachers’ evaluations, a teacher who works hard and brings her eighth-grader from a fourth-grade up to a sixth-grade reading level would not receive any credit for that important success.

In addition to failing to accurately show student growth, the SBAC test is also inappropriate to use in teacher evaluations because it was not designed for that purpose. Linking the SBAC test to a teacher’s evaluation has no scientific or research-based backing.

In fact, researchers have found that, when teacher’s ratings are based on students’ performance on mastery tests, the group of students a teacher has in a particular class has a major effect on how teachers’ ratings change from year to year or class to class.

“There is no mastery test on the market that vendors claim is an effective measure of teachers’ performance,” said CEA Director of Policy, Research, and Reform Donald Williams. “I assume we all want a valid, fair, and reliable system of teacher evaluation that has integrity and is honest. Misusing a test like that undercuts those goals.”

Research has shown many additional downsides to using mastery tests in teacher evaluations, including that it results in more standardization in schools and increased difficulty recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers.

“If we allow for SBAC to account for almost a quarter of a teacher’s evaluation, we’re going to discourage new teachers from going into the profession,” said Danbury guidance counselor Juanita Harris.

A National Education Association (NEA) study found that, “The teachers in the nation’s lowest performing schools are 50 percent more likely to leave their district than are teachers in high-performing and well-resourced schools.”

Teacher turnover means a revolving door that has a disruptive and costly effect for high-poverty school districts, but more importantly negatively impacts student achievement and efforts to provide a high-quality education for all students.

For more information, read Key Points: Minority Teacher Retention and Testing in Teacher Evaluation.

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