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SBAC Validity Linked to Use and Purpose; SDE Unveils New Growth Model

The state's Mastery Examination Committee met on September 21 to discuss purposes of student assessment and the state's new growth model.

September 21, 2016

At the September 21 meeting of the state's Mastery Examination Committee, committee members discussed the purpose and use of standardized tests.

"One of the real things that occurred in the last era was a misuse of the state exam," Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzell said. "It created an over-focus on the exam itself and a narrowing of the curriculum in some cases to the things that were assessed."

Don Williams, CEA director of Policy, Research, and Reform, pointed out that education researcher James Popham has strongly cautioned against misusing standardized tests designed for one purpose to fulfill a completely separate purpose.

Popham writes that the validity of a test, such as SBAC, which is designed to evaluate school and district performance, is rendered invalid if it is used for purposes not fully supported by evidence.

Committee members discussed the limitations of SBAC, including its inability to offer teachers and parents specific information to help students learn and grow. Districts alternatively administer a variety of formative assessments in order to identify student needs and adjust ongoing teaching and learning.

Jeffrey Villar, the executive director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, said he sees a value for districts in having a robust assessment system that includes benchmark assessments.

"Then you have the end of the year test which, quite candidly, the whole system should ignore while they work through their curriculum," he said. "It's when districts pay too much attention to the end score is when they make really bad decisions and you get bad outcomes."

West Hartford teacher and local Association president Ted Goerner pointed out that it's hard for teachers to ignore the SBAC and other mastery tests when the threat of these tests being tied to their evaluations hangs over their heads.

"SBAC is a very broad test and only focuses on math, reading, and writing," he said. "The majority of teachers aren't math or English teachers."

"And it's not just teacher evaluations," said Williams. "If you're going to wean school administrations away from focusing on the SBAC score as opposed to formative tests throughout the school year that identify the specific needs of the student, then you've got to stop treating SBAC like a high-stakes test that not only goes potentially to teacher evaluation, but to administrator evaluation, and to school ranking. Of course administrators are going to say, 'SBAC is the most important test' if it is high-stakes for all those purposes."

Department of Education to use SBAC to construct growth models

This year Connecticut will, for the first time, use a growth calculation to predict future student performance on the SBAC test, and to measure students' year-to-year growth on the exam. State Department of Education staff shared that they plan to have school- and district-level growth data available either late this fall or in the early winter.

The growth model sets what Wentzell called "ambitious but attainable goals" for student growth. The model creates a growth target for each individual student based on how he or she performed on the SBAC exam in the previous year. The percent of that target each student actually achieves is then averaged and used as part of Connecticut's school and district accountability systems. (Click here for more about the growth model.)

The growth model the state Department of Education has developed uses the same growth target for all students at a particular grade and SBAC achievement level—regardless of demographic factors such as English language learner status, socioeconomic status, or parental education level.

Additional discussion regarding SBAC and the growth model will be part of the agenda at the committee's next meeting on October 19.

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