State takes another step away from standardized testing

MONTPELIER — Vermont will not use its newly implemented standardized testing system to evaluate the state’s K-12 schools.

Earlier this week, the State Board of Education voted to not use the results from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium — or SBAC — as the basis for its annual report on school performance to the federal government.

The SBAC, a computerized test that students — many for the first time — began taking Tuesday, replaces the New England Common Assessment Program, or NECAP, which for years provided the annual data on school performance required under the federal “No Child Behind” act, often referred to derisively by educators and administrators as “No Child Left Untested.”

In the spring of 2014, nearly 30 schools took the SBAC test as part of a pilot program. Aside from this handful of students, most will be seeing the new test for the first time this spring.

In theory, the SBAC test will do a better job of measuring the Common Core State Standards adopted by the state in 2010. But, nearly five years later, some school districts have yet to adopt curriculum that reflect the new education standards.

“Test scores can be a trigger for detailed evaluation to learn what schools are doing very effectively or to help identify strategies schools can use to get better,” said Stephan Morse, chairman of the State Board of Education. “However, there are real limitations of what can be concluded about learning based on test scores, particularly in the first years of new tests and standards. Students this spring will be tested as if they had Common Core-aligned curricula for their entire educational career.”

The move continues a shift on the part of the State Board of Education to place less emphasis on standardized testing. In August, the board issued a letter calling on Congress and the Obama administration to reduce the testing mandates under “No Child left Behind.”

Because Vermont does not use standardized tests as a method to evaluate teachers, the federal government applies a strict standard to the state’s schools, in which a single student who receives a score of not proficient results in the entire school being identified as failing.

“The biggest thing is credibility,” said board member William Mathis of the board’s recent decision. “It (the SBAC test) is supposed to be used to determine if you’re college or career ready. The problem is, ‘college and career ready’ if you’re going to MIT is very different than if you’re going to your local college.”

Mathis also noted that, unlike the previous test, the SBAC is administered on a computer or personal electronic device, a challenge to districts with few computers and to students who have not had training in computer use.

“What are we testing, computer literacy or math and English?” Mathis asked.
Rebecca Holcombe, secretary of the Agency of Education, said she supported the Board’s decision. Holcombe said the state would seek permission from the federal government to offer other forms of data — such as high school graduation rates — for an annual measurement of how the state’s schools are doing.

“If we’re really raising the bar, we need to give schools time,’ said Holcombe, noting that the new test places greater emphasis on critical thinking and problem-solving skills than the old test.

“We should never forget that this test is not a full measure of what we want from our education system,” Holcombe said.

Holcombe said the state will still release test results to the public.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *