For far too long, federal education policy has fixated on student testing, testing, and more testing.
The forced over-reliance on standardized testing has eaten away at the time and attention students should have to thrive and love learning. Today the public recognizes that Connecticut has been going headlong down the wrong road, and we have the first public opinion poll on testing in 2015 as evidence.
Some tests are more useful than others, and the distinctions make a difference. Some offer a track record of effectiveness, providing teachers with tools to respond rapidly and precisely to a student’s academic needs; others simply do not.
The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test, to be taken by students in grades 3 through 8 and grade 11 annually beginning next month, does not advance education. But countless hours preparing students for the test have the effect of reducing precious and valuable instructional time in classrooms across the state. Our students will never get back that wasted time.
Driven by decrees from Washington, testing has overtaken level-headed common sense. It is time to put the emphasis back on teaching and learning. That can be achieved by our state legislature approving a plan that would:
1. Phase out SBAC, instead utilizing the progress assessments already being administered in local school districts.
2. Reduce the percentage that testing counts toward measuring school quality from 90 percent to 20 percent. That will demonstrate that it is learning that matters most – not a high-stakes test score.
3. Establish a State Mastery Examination Board, composed of educators and experts, to identify the progress assessment test that will take the place of the federal and state requirement that there be one statewide test.
4. Prohibit high-stakes testing – such as SBAC – in pre-kindergarten programs through second grade.
5. Establish a commission on student learning and school quality to identify key measures that indicate how well schools and districts prepare students to meet key accountability objectives.
In contrast to SBAC, for a number of years, Connecticut schools have administered progress tests. These are valid and reliable tests with a proven track record. Impressively, they enable teachers to adjust instructional strategies effectively to meet students’ needs quickly and directly.
If there were any doubt about voters’ desire to end excessive testing, and their frustration with the current test-crazed approach, a new statewide survey puts that to rest.
Connecticut voters overwhelmingly believe that classroom-based information, and not standardized tests, is the most trustworthy and accurate means by which to assess student learning, performance, and achievement. A remarkable nearly eight in 10 trust classroom-based information, such as performance and grades.
Two-thirds agree that students are required to take too many standardized tests. And nearly three in four voters believe that too many instructional hours are being lost to preparing for standardized tests.
What should be done? Almost two-thirds want their legislators to vote for a bill to reduce standardized tests. Notably, more than half strongly support this potential legislation.
To students’ detriment, federal policymakers have made education all about the test. But a student is more than a test score.
Connecticut decision-makers can create school accountability that includes more robust and meaningful measures of student knowledge and growth. Policymakers can meet federal and state accountability requirements, while restoring instructional time to engage, energize, and excite our students and reveal new possibilities and opportunities.
Connecticut’s education policy needs to reflect the good judgment of educators and citizens alike who understand that a sound and inspiring education is so much more than an array of answers keyed on a standardized spreadsheet.
Neither educators nor the public believe that high-stakes, standardized tests are the most accurate or trustworthy means by which to assess student progress. State lawmakers need to hear that message and respond. Connecticut needs to get this right. There is too much at risk if decision makers don’t.
Sheila Cohen is president of the Connecticut Education Association.
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