The state Senate moved Thursday to end a controversial high-stakes test for high school juniors and promised to consider adopting a different statewide test for third- through eighth-graders.
The inaugural year of testing with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium isn’t complete, but lawmakers said they had heard enough complaints about the test and decided to allow the state Board of Education to replace it for 11th graders.
The bill, S.B. 1095, doesn’t say what test would replace the SBAC test for 11th graders, but advocates say about 85 percent of high school juniors already take the popular SAT college entrance exam and it could easily replace the SBAC test for those juniors.
State Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, said Thursday that the bill will open the door to the remaining 15 percent of students who might not have access to a college readiness examination. It would also help relieve the burden on a heavily tested grade level and would restore instruction time in the classroom that would otherwise be spent preparing for the SBAC.
Slossberg described the bill as part of the legislature’s effort to rectify a decision it didn’t make.
“That test was not chosen by this legislature. That was all done outside this building,” she said. “I think there were a lot of people that woke up one day in this building and said, ‘wow, what’s going on out there?’”
SBAC is one of two multi-state consortia with assessments based on the Common Core State Standards, which were developed under the leadership of the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association.
Slossberg’s fellow Education Committee chairman, state Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, said the state is a key member of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium that made a group decision to place the high-school assessment in the 11th grade. Federal law mandates testing to occur sometime between grades 10 and 12.
The consortium picked 11th grade “in order to capture more of the high school experience,” Fleischmann said. “I think that consortium didn’t do as much thinking as my co-chair and our task force and others have done about the impact of putting that assessment into the junior year of high school.”
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, described a backlash from school communities protesting what they describe as too much testing in one year.
“We are responding to the fact that legislators have heard objections from principals, teachers, parents, and students regarding the SBAC test and the most strenuous opposition has been focused on the fact that high school juniors often feel themselves under siege with the barrage of testing that they have to face,” Looney said.
The measure requires the state Board of Education to enter into an agreement with a nationally recognized college readiness assessment.
State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, said the SAT is one option that fits the bill.
“Instead of two separate tests, one test can be used to accomplish both the goal of assessing student progress and also completing the requirements for those students that need the SAT or ACT for college entrance,” Boucher said. “This could potentially save parents and students the expense of taking the college entrance exams separate from the state-mandated high school assessment.”
A fiscal analysis for the bill estimates an additional cost of $2 million for the switch in both 2016 and 2017. Fleischmann said there’s about $3 million in unused funds in the current budget’s mastery test line item and an additional $2 million to $3 million in other relevant line items that he believes can be carried forward to cover the difference.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said the bill’s directive aligns with the recommendations of a working group he convened in September to look into ways to reduce standardized testing in schools. The working group will present its findings to the state Board of Education, which ultimately sets the state’s standardized testing protocol.
“We’re pleased the recommendations of our working group have support in the legislature and we’re glad to collaborate with its members,” Malloy said.
The bill also would establish a Mastery Examination Committee within the state Department of Education to address standardized testing in grades 3-8. The committee would be charged with reviewing the impact of the testing on students and teachers as well as its compatibility with curriculum standards and federal guidelines. The bill includes a provision to address accommodations for English language learners and students with disabilities.
The bill would require an interim report by January 2016 with the final report a year later.
Sheila Cohen, president of the state’s largest teacher’s union and who led the charge to form the review committee, said the bill increases accountability and provides a strong commitment to further examining standardized testing in other grades.
“The reduction in testing at the high school level makes us optimistic that further improvements to provide less testing and more learning in our public schools are in the future,” Cohen said in a statement.
Legislative leaders said the bill has broad, bicameral, bipartisan support.
State Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, state Sen. Tony Guglielmo, R-Stafford Springs, and state Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown, voted against the bill. It now goes to the House for consideration.