State Seeks To Avoid Double-Testing, Promote Early Use Of New Computerized Test
By KATHLEEN MEGAN
July 11, 2013
State officials are seeking to avoid "double-testing" students next year during the transition to a new computerized state test based on more rigorous academic standards.
Connecticut officials also will ask the federal government for permission to allow school districts to choose whether to include the results of standardized tests in the first year of a new teacher evaluation system that will roll out statewide in September.
"I believe these are common sense measures," Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Wednesday as he announced the plan to seek "flexibility" in these areas.
He said he hopes these steps, if approved, will encourage more districts to try out the new computerized test — prepared by the Smarter Balanced Consortium — in the coming year.
"I hope this encourages a high rate of participation," Malloy said. "… I think that's more likely to happen when they understand it's one test or the other."
Malloy said that in his conversations with school officials it became clear that districts needed "support and resources" as they prepared for a bevy of reforms planned for the next two years.
Those reforms include the conversion next year to a more academically rigorous curriculum based on the national Common Core State Standards and the gradual switch from the standardized tests that Connecticut students have taken for decades to the computerized Smarter Balanced test based on the tougher academic standards.
A minimum of 20 percent of students will take the Smarter Balanced test next year, Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said. Then, in 2014-15, the entire state is supposed to switch to the Smarter Balanced test.
In addition, in the coming year the new teacher evaluation system was scheduled to begin to tie a teacher's rating in part to students' state standardized test scores.
Pryor said the state is not backing away from the use of "student performance indicators" in teacher evaluations but wants to give districts flexibility to phase in the use of standardized test scores in the first year. During the education reform debate, the issue of including test scores in the evaluations was a source of friction.
One reason to delay the inclusion of test scores in teacher evaluations is that next year will be a transitional one, with some students taking the Smarter Balanced test and others taking the traditional Connecticut Mastery Test or Connecticut Academic Performance Test.
Although teachers will incorporate the common core standards in their curriculum, the older standardized tests are not aligned to those standards. That means students taking the Mastery or CAPT tests could face material that differs somewhat from the topics they have covered in class.
"We are building in another year to understand the [new] test and its consequences," Malloy said, adding that he hopes more districts will go forward with the computerized test, figuring, "Let's get one under our belt before we are required to do it."
Leaders of the state's two teachers unions praised Malloy for seeking the waiver.
"Thank you very much for helping us to embrace the flexibility that is absolutely essential for our districts to be fair," said Sheila Cohen, president of the Connecticut Education Association.
Melodie Peters, president of the American Federation of Teachers Connecticut, thanked Malloy for listening and said the schools districts have seen "incredible change" in recent years. "To do this in a very deliberate, methodical way so that we can do it right means a great deal," Peters said.
Pryor said school districts will be free to choose whether to offer the Smarter Balanced test or the Mastery or CAPT test — or both.
West Hartford Assistant Schools Superintendent Nancy DePalma said she didn't think the town would rethink its plans to stick with the longstanding Mastery and CAPT tests in the coming year. She said the district needs to focus on ensuring that the curriculum meets the more stringent common core standards before the district administers the Smarter Balanced test to all students.
Malloy's announcement came about three weeks after U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced that states could apply for waivers to avoid double-testing.
Malloy made his announcement at a meeting of the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council — the group that designed the new teacher evaluation system. The council approved the plan to request flexibility and on Monday the state Board of Education is expected to approve it as well.
State officials said they hope the federal agency will decide on their request by September, though the tests are not administered until spring.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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