furyDESE released their response to the SBAC judgement yesterday in what can only be called a collection of words “full of sound a fury, signifying nothing.”

“The Attorney General’s office, on behalf of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the State Board of Education, filed an appeal to the ruling against the state’s membership in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). The SBAC is a group of states working together to create common assessments and to share the cost of creating those test.

This ruling has potential implications for other state departments that work with other states to share resources and share costs for providing services to the public. These state agreements should continue for the mutual benefit of all citizens.”

What other department in Missouri is working with other states to develop a test of our student’s academic performance? Why is another department besides the Elementary and Secondary Education department working with other states to develop a test of our student’s academic performance? Where have all these other departments been in all the hearings and discussions about the new assessment system with legislators and the public? This interpretation of DESE’s remarks seems rather unlikely.

Is it more likely that our Attorney General Chris Koster saying that the state has regularly skipped the due diligence process in determining whether our contracts or memoranda of agreement for multi-state consortia are legal? Is Missouri’s involvement in illegal interstate compacts even more widespread than just in education? Have we just abandoned the rule of law completely because someone decided it is for the common good? There’s something the main stream media can look into.

“The ruling does not affect spring assessments, as the state has already finalized testing plans for Spring 2015. Independent of Missouri’s membership in the SBAC, the Board and the Department support high quality assessments aligned with the Missouri Learning Standards.”

The state finalized testing plans, based on an assumption that the tests being considered met both state and federal laws regarding assessments.

The state assessment plan that DESE submitted last year was for a fully operational, summative, computer-adaptive tests scheduled for administration in spring 2015. That is not what is being implemented this spring. And while its very nice for the state board to “support high quality assessments” the reality is much more than that. They are bound by law to provide such assessments and the facts show that they will not be doing that with SBAC.

State statute requires that the

“commissioner of education shall inform the president pro tempore of the senate and the speaker of the house of representatives about the procedures to implement, modify, or revise the statewide assessment system, including a report related to the reliability and validity of the assessment instruments, and the general assembly may, within the next sixty legislative days, veto such implementation, modification, or revision by concurrent resolution adopted by majority vote of both the senate and the house of representatives.”

That report is to be delivered 6 months in advance of the statewide test implementation. A report was delivered in September last year, but it clearly demonstrated that the test had no external validity or reliability. The SBAC computer adaptive assessment did not meet state requirements and the general assembly retained the right to veto the implementation of the test.

In addition, in only February 2015, just eight weeks prior to implementation of the test, DESE announced that the state would not be giving the computer adaptive version of the SBAC test piloted last year, we would be giving a “fixed form” assessment. This is a completely different test than was used to generate baseline numbers last year in the piloted version of SBAC, different from the state’s MAP test given more widely last spring in a paper and pencil format, and different from the test included in DESE’s assessment plan “approved” by the legislature last year. No reports on validity and reliability have been given to the general assembly for this fixed form test.  The February 5th memo from Assistant Commissioner Helwig also referred to the fact that the state would go back to the proposed computer adaptive test next school year. It will be statistically impossible to calculate Adequate Yearly Progress using three different tests which were neither standardized in content nor delivery method.

All DESE is saying in the above paragraph is that there was a budget process to approve money to fund testing. They are ignoring all of the requirements, the strings if you will, that were attached to that funding. They never seem to be able to ignore those requirements when it comes to federal money that they receive. Is this like knowing that dad will let you get away with all kinds of things that mom will not?

At the federal level, the strings attached to Title I funding from NCLB requires states to demonstrate Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) using assessment instruments with demonstrated validity and reliability. The USDoED coerced states into joining the consortia through both the Race to the Top grant program and NCLB waiver process. In so doing they pushed states into illegal interstate compacts, which developed test items funded entirely by the federal government which is in itself a violation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and into a test which has no validity and reliability at this time. Please tell me how they can hold the states to any promise to participate in this process? How can they legally justify any withholding of federal Title I funds based on this illegal and invalid process?

In the past, private test developers were held to a high standard because they were selling a product. There was competition among the different test developers so if you wanted the business you knew you were going to have to deliver on quality, both in test items and delivery systems. Under a government developed system where there is essentially no competition, the same high standards are not set. While the desire for high quality assessment remains, there can be no expectation that it will be delivered.

Additionally, government funded programs typically come in well above the cost of private run programs. SBAC is no outlier in this area either. The cost of the previous assessment given in MO was $1.80/student. In DESE’s assessment plan, delivered to the legislature last year, the cost of the SBAC test was $26/student and that cost did not include scoring. Where is that scoring going to come from? Check out this Kelly Services ad for McGraw Hill scorers.


DESE’s press release goes on to say –

“This year’s grade-level tests raise expectations for our students, and we know our kids can meet those expectations,” said Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven. “If we are going to be a top state for education, we need to believe that all students can learn and fulfill their potential.”

Tuesday’s post addressed the “raised expectations” that Ms. Vandeven might be referring to which turn out to be questionable at best. Her second sentence sounds like a political stump speech which may get a round of applause from the audience, but really means nothing. In order to be a top state for education we just have to believe? Usually to be top in something you must research what it is your customer wants, investigate proven methods for success in delivering such results, try new approaches in limited beta testing before widescale implementation, only implementing that which was found to be effective in testing, and discontinue ineffective efforts that have little or no ROI. Believing is what you do when you want Tinkerbell to make you fly.

“The grade-level tests reduce testing time to approximately an hour in grades 3, 4, 6 and 7. Grades 5 and 8 will take the full assessment in order to demonstrate students’ readiness for middle school and high school.”

So it is an improvement that we have reduced testing time to the point where we can assess a child’s entire academic progress in just one hour? Does anyone believe that is a reasonable statement? If we can do that for grades 3, 4, 5 and 7, why do we need 8-10 hours of testing for grades 5 and 8. Clearly the tests for the lower grades are a mere formality that provide little benefit. I’m not advocating for more testing in those grades. We should be doing less testing overall. Rather than take a sane and cost effective position by telling the USDoED we are not going to over-test our students, DESE simply institutes the minimum necessary to check the box.

“This is the first year students in elementary school will take Missouri assessments on computers. End-of-course tests have been computer-based since 2010. The computerized tests are interactive, allowing students to solve problems and develop skills students will need.”

Sentence one has nothing to do with sentence two. EOCs are not computer adaptive tests. They are more like fixed form tests. They are not all given to all students at the same time. They are given to a subset of students of certain grades on a particular topic. Not all students take EOCs. Not all schools have the necessary devices to do all of the testing that is required by SBAC. Because we gave EOCs on computers for the last four years does not mean, as this paragraph implies, that we are ready for full scale SBAC testing now.

One middle school in my district will be shutting down the library for the entire month of April because that is where the computers are. For those students who are working on research papers or need normal library services as they wrap up their school year, too bad. Another school, after meeting with five internet suppliers, realized that they will not have the necessary trunk lines in time and the earliest a supplier could get them that was June because so many districts around the state are scrambling for the same service. One school district is even considering busing their students to another district because they do not have the devices necessary to get everyone tested in time. Even with this accommodation they calculate that it will take 5 weeks to complete everyone’s testing. That is 5 weeks where lesson plans will be affected while students are pulled out to test. One district in southern Missouri is confiscating all teacher computers in order to try to meet that goal.

DESE’s testing times are based on the assumption that everything will work exactly as promised, that a one hour test will only take one hour, that computers and servers won’t crash, that there will be no lag because servers are past capacity. The concept of standardized for testing this spring will be thrown out the window as districts scramble to find available computers. Desk top, lap top, ipad, all will be used and it does make a difference in how you experience the test.

As for the tests allowing students to “develop skills” they will need, the only skill the students could possibly develop while taking a test is the skill of taking a test. So either DESE does not know the purpose of tests and thinks that the mere act of testing will help students develop academic skills, or DESE is telling us that kids are going to need to have test taking skills because they will be doing a lot more of that in the future. Neither one is a very comforting thought. Neither one points to any value in students taking a test that is called a “pilot” test in HB1490 and whose results will not be used to change a district’s accreditation status or teacher evaluations.

But we can be happy that the state department of education and attorney general’s office will be fighting to maintain this illegal insanity in this state, against the wishes of the legislature and the general public. We know how much they are looking out for our interests and following the rule of law.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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