Speaking Truth to Power

I contributed to the Connecticut conversation about standardized testing by speaking before the Education Committee of the General Assembly on March 19, 2015 because I think that legislators, like many citizens, believe the media spin about the Common Core and SBAC testing.

For example, they could believe that the Common Core standards are rigorous since that is how the standards have been marketed and believe that the SBAC tests are also rigorous since so many students fail them. In reality, the low pass rate is a pre-determined decision, and the standards are mundane.  Many of us, if we wanted to, could create tests in such a way that very few of our students could pass. But why would we want to?   Why does Connecticut want to?  The SBAC tests are not intellectually challenging; they are just very effective “gotcha’s”.

The truth is that SBAC tests measure the wrong things because they are based on the wrong standards.  They do not promote student learning and do not equip students for their future.

I tried to explain the harm in SBAC tests to the legislators by summarizing my opposition to SBAC (explained more fully in my prior post) and recommending a call to action.  I waited more than three hours for my turn to speak and spoke for the allotted three minutes.  And what did it change?  Exactly nothing – at least not at that time in that place.

However, I wholeheartedly believe that educators should keep speaking out, and someday we will make a difference. Tuesday’s rally in Hartford against SBAC testing was a hopeful sign. It would be great if the teachers unions become champions of real learning and authentic, curriculum-based assessments and keep their focus on speaking out against the damaging SBAC tests and the inadequate standards to which they are aligned.

Connecticut educators have the experience and the expertise to know the truth about what real learning is and what good assessments are. Educators must keep telling that truth to those in power.

Here are my remarks to the Education Committee::

Testimony of Ann Policelli Cronin

Before the Education Committee of The Connecticut General Assembly

Re: S.B. 1095 An Act Concerning Students Assessments 

Good afternoon Chairman Fleischmann and Chairwoman Slossberg and Members of the Education Committee. My name is Ann Policelli Cronin. I have been a designer of nationally award–winning English curricula and a supervisor of English teachers in Connecticut for 22 years.

I am here to tell you that that the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and the SBAC test for high school English lack rigor and will not make students “college and career ready”. If Connecticut continues with SBAC testing, all of Connecticut’s high school students will be harmed, and it will be impossible to solve Connecticut’s greatest educational problem: closing the achievement gap.

All students are harmed because the SBAC English test doesn’t measure what it means to read thoughtfully and write effectively. Not one English teacher, not one college English professor, and not one professional with expertise in adolescent cognitive development worked on the committee that wrote the standards on which the SBAC test is based. Instead the standards were written by test makers who decided what was good for students to learn was only what they could measure on a standardized test. That is not literacy.

The SBAC test hasn’t been field-tested and even the executive director of SBAC, Joseph Willholt, has said that, without field-testing, the test lacks validity. No one knows if a good score means a student will succeed in college, and no one knows if a poor score means a student will struggle in college. SBAC also doesn’t assess any of the key skills for the global workplace: questioning, collaborating, effective communication, and metacognitive (learning-to-learn) skills.

Students in schools with histories of low test scores will be hurt the most because, in an effort to raise test scores, much instructional time is spent on test prep. So the very students who need experiences of reading, writing, and collaborating the most will be denied them. The gap between these students and their more affluent peers in schools with traditionally high test scores and, therefore, less test prep time will widen. The rich will get richer as readers and writers, and the poor will get poorer without those literacy skills.

Also with the passing rate set at 40%, many labeled as failing will be students from poverty because scores of standardized tests always correlate with family income. How long will a student be motivated to learn and how long will that student stay in school if he or she fails the test each year? Not only are impoverished students receiving an inferior education, but also their dropout rate will increase.

So what is the solution?

I have three recommendations:

  1. Don’t spend money on SBAC. If we want to assess how we are doing as a state with standardized measures, use, without cost, NAEP, the most respected of standardized tests.
  1. Truly “level the playing field” not by testing and punishing students but by addressing the learning needs of those disadvantaged by poverty and racism.
  1. Empower Connecticut educators to design assessments to measure what students need both for their future in the global workplace and for developing their potential as learners and thinkers.

What we need to standardize in Connecticut is what we as educators, citizens, and legislators do to create opportunities for real learning for ALL Connecticut’s students. The first step is to stop inadequate and damaging SBAC testing.

2 thoughts on “Speaking Truth to Power

  1. Great comments, Ann. As someone who taught in as an English teacher in the secondary arena for nine years and for 15 years on the college level, I fully agree with the danger of ineffective testing. Fluency in reading and writing comes from having a great deal of practice in both those skills. If the pressure of testing is taking students away from working on literacy skills through the practice of literacy, that is a problem. It is an even bigger problem if the testing is poorly designed. I would rather see a graduating high school student enter my college classroom with experience in reading a wide range of literature and writing a variety of composition forms than with high scores on particular tests. In today’s technological age, when what constitutes literacy is rapidly shifting as our forms of expression continually change, it is critical that high schools do all they can to strengthen students’ abilities to reading and writing by giving them the opportunity to fully engage in these activities throughout their four years of study.


    1. If only those designing the Common Core had listened to college English professors like you, we would not be in the situation we are in now with both the wrong standards for reading and writing and also the wrong way of assessing reading and writing. Change is needed!


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