OP-ED | The SBAC Tests Are Coming ... and Now They Count!
As local school districts attempt to explain to parents of students the purpose and value of the government-mandated, highly controversial, newly designed testing system that will be imposed upon their children in grades 3 through 8 and 11 this spring, perhaps we should begin to ask questions to better understand whether we want our children to participate in this questionable educational undertaking.
Let’s first ask: Are these tests psychometrically valid and reliable predictors of what the test makers claim they are measuring? How do you know for sure? Are there district experts who understand the essential properties inherent in test development such that they can authenticate what the test developers claim to be measuring? Or have local district educators simply accepted the word of the testing consortia/companies/marketers/propagandists themselves as to the correlations and other statistical features associated with these tests and what that may mean for interpreting our children’s test results?
Let’s then ask: Upon receipt of these test results, how will the information be utilized by our children’s teachers to inform specific instruction of each student’s individual learning needs?
It has been widely reported that this new generation of computerized assessments will be “rigorous” (so the test makers say) and that the tests have been designed to have a cut-score for passing at a grade-level proficiency set such that approximately 30 percent of students taking the test will pass and conversely approximately 70 percent will not meet grade-level expectations and, hence, fail the state-mandated new assessment.
How will our children benefit from missing out on an estimated 7 to 10 hours of classroom learning on curricula objectives (not including time spent preparing for the test) while engaging in a testing experiment that will – for the majority of them – only tell them that they are not performing well enough?
Let’s ask: How will our most vulnerable students feel taking these purposefully designed “rigorous” tests that will, most likely, overwhelm, frustrate, demoralize, and defeat them as they are already struggling to achieve adequately with the unforgiving “one-size-fits-all” demands of the Common Core standards that they experience in school every day? How will these test results help teachers improve their instruction of identified special education students who have already been evaluated by a multidisciplinary team of professionals through individually administered standardized measures to establish eligibility for specialized instruction? How will these test results inform instruction for students who do not speak English and are already receiving ELL or ESL instructional support or bi-lingual programming in our schools? Does it make any sense to test students in any language other than the one they understand?
Let’s ask further about what will be done with our children’s test results: Will their test results be shared with parents to ensure understanding of how their children are performing relative to their classmates? Relative to others in their grade at school? Relative to other children in their grade in neighboring communities? Across our state? Nation? Do we really need to know this information? Will it impact the way each child is taught? Will the test results be shared with the students themselves? If so, how? Are the students not entitled to know how well (or poorly) they have done on this test? Will these test results be utilized to make placement decisions? For gifted programming opportunities? For inclusion into High Math or top-level English classes? For decision-making as to whether a student should be promoted to the next grade level? Lots of questions. We are entitled to know the answers.
Where will the test results be maintained? Will they be stored in a district-wide database? Will these test results be shared beyond building staff who actually work with our children? Will these test results and other personal, private, and confidential information be stored, shared with requesting agencies, placed in “the cloud” where it can be hacked or otherwise accessed without a parent’s or student’s explicit permission? What has happened to our FERPA protections? What does P20 WIN mean, and how does it impact our children and our family? How can we possibly guarantee student privacy in this brave new, somewhat uncertain, world of emerging technologies?
There has been much controversy about whether our children’s test results on these new tests will determine their teacher’s performance in evaluating teacher effectiveness. Are our children’s teachers really being evaluated by the test scores of their students? How does this accountability pressure on teachers impact their ability to individualize and meet our children’s personal learning styles and emotional needs as learners? Will teachers want low-performing or special needs students in their classrooms if their very livelihood is put at risk?
Because value-added measurement (VAM) formulas have been largely discredited by leading psychometric researchers and the American Statistical Association, why are our teachers being evaluated by a flawed and highly controversial methodology? That must be why this testing regime is referred to as “high stakes.” Sounds punitive – totally misguided, arbitrary, and grossly unfair! How can we ask our teachers to extend their teaching expertise to the many varied levels of readiness, motivation, and life experience that they deal with every day when children enter their classrooms?
And, lest we forget to ask: Is the expense of this new testing experiment worthwhile or even necessary to ensure that our children will be better prepared to be engaged as thoughtful citizens, be able to support themselves (hopefully at a job they enjoy and have aspired to), and feel confident and secure as life-long learners? What has been the cost to our children in lost instructional time? In pressure to achieve above their developmental readiness level? In the emotional toll of frustration during the test experience itself or disappointment in learning the results (after all, 70 percent are predetermined to fall below grade-level proficiency – read that as Fail! Fail! Fail! – how else would you read the results if they were yours?). Research tells us that positive reinforcement goes a whole lot farther than negative reinforcement in shaping true learning.
How much will it cost parents who feel the need to supplement their children’s education to ensure success – or, at least, the opportunity for success? How will that impact the parent-child relationship? How will our children feel when they are unable to fulfill parental expectations?
What will this unproven testing experiment cost taxpayers whose local taxes support district schools and programming? Should the district cut back on arts and sports programming to focus on the measured areas of learning? Will upgrades in broadband capacity and ever-changing new technology be prohibitive? Will these costs be viewed by educational leaders as non-negotiable expenses? As a taxpaying citizen who has benefited from the largess of my neighbors when my children were in school, I accept my responsibility in paying my fair share in educating the next generation, but I want to know how my tax dollars are being spent, and I do not want my taxes going to foolish endeavors that are not well-researched, well-grounded in educational principles (let alone, common sense), and appear to be specifically designed to undermine, some say “destroy,” American public education which has been the foundation upon which most Americans have had the opportunity to thrive in this country.
These are just some of the many questions that parents and concerned citizens should begin to ask. You will have many of your own – at least, I certainly hope so.
John Bestor has been a practicing school psychologist for 40 years and is a Sandy Hook resident.
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