Vermont Leads; Connecticut Flounders

Several days after I spoke in front of  the Education Committee of the General Assembly, I read an article (See below) in The Stamford Advocate, written by Wendy Lecker, a civil rights attorney. She explains how Vermont is taking the lead among New England states in opposing the SBAC standardized tests and criticizes the positions on SBAC testing of our governor and the former Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor.

It is two months since the publishing of Lecker’s article, and those in power in Connecticut remain entrenched in SBAC testing.   The current Commissioner of Education, Dianna Roberge Wentzel, is unequivocally  in favor of the Common Core and the aligned SBAC tests. And as recently as Friday, May 8, 2015, Governor Malloy said, ” I think the Smarter Balance test is the right test. A lot of work has gone into developing that and, you know, I think that we are actually seeing success with it being given and making real progress.”  Also, Andy Fleischmann, the Chair of the legislature’s Education Committee, said in a CT Mirror  article published on May 15, 2015, ” The (SBAC) test does show to be robust and valid.”

Given that we are still in the middle of the  first year of testing students (Last year’s tests were just to aid testing companies in creating future test questions.) and there are not yet any results  from the tests, it is difficult to figure out what Governor Malloy means by “seeing success” and “making progress” with the SBAC tests. Also, since the executive director of SBAC, Joseph Willholt, has admitted that there is a “large validity question” with the SBAC tests because no one  has any idea if success on the test equals success in college, it is difficult to figure out what Chairman Fleischmann means  by the test being “robust and valid”.

The elected and appointed officials who oversee education in Connecticut seem committed to continuing down a path that is increasingly recognized as the wrong path for our children. We in Connecticut need a thoughtful investigation, led by experienced educators, into exactly what are the skills that students need and what are authentic ways to assess those skills.   As citizens, educators, and parents, we must demand that our elected and appointed officials be educational policy leaders and not political followers. Connecticut must join Vermont in thoughtful inquiry about real learning and in concern for the welfare of children.

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Read what Vermont is doing:

The Truth About The SBACs by Wendy Lecker (March 20, 2015)

A New England state is leading the way on sane testing policy. Unfortunately for us Nutmeggers, that state is Vermont, not Connecticut.

There is a growing national consensus that standardized testing has deleterious effects on education. The National Research Council concluded that test-based accountability under the No Child Left Behind Law (NCLB) had “zero to little effect” on achievement. Evidence from around the nation proves the focus on standardized testing has narrowed curricula and resulted in significant losses in learning time. Anxiety is prevalent among public school students, as more and higher stakes are attached to these standardized tests.

There is also a growing realization of what experts have known for years — that the federal government demands that states overuse and misuse standardized tests. Experts know that standardized tests are of limited value, because they are unstable, unreliable and most importantly, do not measure the breadth of skills and experience that are the goals of education. Despite the well-known limitations of standardized tests, federal officials insist test scores be used to rank and rate schools, students and teachers, and impose real-life consequences, including sanctions on schools and possible school closures, firing teachers and even decisions regarding student placement and graduation.

When federal policy conflicts with a solid body of evidence, one would expect our state education officials, those charged with safeguarding the educational rights and welfare of our children, to provide guidance on sound testing policy.

Unfortunately, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s top education officials have failed to provide any useful guidance whatsoever. To the contrary, Connecticut officials willingly participate in damaging testing practices. Connecticut rushed to sign on to the federal NCLB waiver in 2012, without analyzing the costs or consequences. As part of the waiver, then Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor committed the state to implementing the common core tests known as the Smarter Balanced, or SBACs. These tests are longer than the CMTs, and must be taken on a computer or tablet, requiring a certain level of computer skill and literacy. Commissioner Pryor also agreed to “cut scores,” proficiency levels, guaranteeing that a vast majority of Connecticut students will fail the new tests. By agreeing to the waiver, Pryor also committed the state to evaluating teachers based on standardized test scores, even though the weight of evidence demonstrates that evaluating teachers on student these test scores is invalid and major organizations such as the American Statistical Association and the American Educational Research Association oppose this practice.

Contrast Connecticut’s complete lack of leadership with Vermont’s. Because the NCLB waiver called for mandates that were contrary to good educational practices, Vermont refused to apply for an NCLB waiver in 2012. In an August 2014 resolution, Vermont’s State Board of Education called on the federal government to “reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality, eschew the use of student test scores in evaluating educators, and allow flexibility that reflects the unique circumstances of all states.”

Last week, Vermont’s State Board of Education unanimously approved a new resolution on the SBAC tests, which gives strong and informed guidance that Connecticut’s education leaders are unwilling to provide.

Vermont’s resolution declares that while the SBAC tests “purport to measure progress towards `college and career readiness . . . the tests have not been externally validated as measuring these important attributes.”

Accordingly, the state board resolved “until empirical studies confirm a sound relationship between performance on the SBAC and critical and valued life outcomes (“college and career-ready”), test results should not be used to make normative and consequential judgments about schools and students.”

Vermont’s state board also resolved that until Vermont has more experience with evidence from the SBACs, “the results of the SBAC assessment will not support reliable and valid inferences about student performance, and thus should not be used as the basis for any consequential purpose.”

Finally, honest education officials admit the SBACs have never been proven to measure “college readiness” or progress toward “college readiness,” and in fact are unreliable to measure student learning. In other words, the foundation upon which the Common Core rests is an artifice, and our children are being subjected to unproven tests. Connecticut districts have been diverting resources and time toward a testing regime without any proof that it would improve our children’s education.

In its thoughtful articulation of its policy stance, Vermont’s educational leaders demonstrated their dedication to the educational welfare of Vermont’s children. It is shameful that Connecticut’s so-called leaders cannot muster the same concern for ours.

Wendy Lecker is a columnist for Hearst Connecticut Media Group and is senior attorney at the Education Law Center.

2 thoughts on “Vermont Leads; Connecticut Flounders

  1. Thank you for sharing insights from our Vermont neighbors. It shows how thinking globally and acting locaklly can lead the way to change. For me, the idea of transforming large institutions (like the US education system) can be daunting. I am thankful for your thought leadership and those in your good company who are willing to voice another way or at least point out the ugly truths with the current way. Exposure is the only cure for delusion. I also applaud the opinion article by Elizabeth Natale that appeared in Sunday’s Hartford Courant. Ms. Natale teaches middle school English and language arts in West Hartford and weighed in with her view as both a teacher and a parent on “Why Smarter Balanced Tests Fail Students.” She is effectively “Defecting in Place” by standing within the institution and working for change. The more teachers who are brave enough to follow her example, the greater chance we have of creating a credible counter balance to the for-profit lobbying by testing companies.

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    1. Julie, thank you for your thoughtful comments. Yesterday, another reader sent me an article from the Bangor Times which showed that Maine has just followed Vermont’s lead and will end SBAC testing. So the local is extending beyond Vermont’s borders!! Now to Connecticut…….

      We also must end the Common Core standards upon which the test are based because those standards are teaching the wrong skills. They do not teach the skills that Tony Wagner and others point out that our children need.

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