sbacIsn’t is odd how desperately DESE wants all students to take the SBAC test, especially since SBAC itself has admitted it has no external validity, a judge has ruled that it was created by an illegal interstate compact and very few districts even now how the infrastructure in place to administer it? Now it appears that DESE is threatening districts with withholding vital pieces of information about this spring’s test in an effort to get them to pressure the legislature not to withdraw the funding for SBAC.

This story posted by KFVS is full of twisted truths or flat out lies that at least one Superintendent, and possibly others, are spinning. We wanted to give you the truth in case you are hearing these talking points from your superintendents.

Common Core continues to be a hot topic around Missouri, now there’s even more fuel to the fire. A plan to take funding away from Common Core following a recent court ruling has forced even more changes.

Advance Superintendent Dr. Stan Seiler explains what this means for his district. He says the state will no longer provide funding for schools to get information about what’s on the Common Core standardized tests, leaving schools no way to know how to prepare students.

Dr. Seiler says if things stay the way they are, students will be going into the test completely blind. He says in the midst of politics, students and schools are being left in limbo.

Truth:  Throughout the debate over HB1490 last year witnesses who opposed the bill claimed that they did not teach to the test and that they had control of the curriculum. They were adamant that the standards were merely the end goal, and that they had complete control of the teaching process in their schools which includes preparation for statewide tests. Yet here is a Superintendent saying that without curriculum from SBAC their students are “going into the test completely blind.”

The test is aligned to the standards. If their claims about not teaching to the test and controlling the curriculum were true, districts who have been teaching to the standards with fidelity should be very confident of their students’ ability to pass the test. Many districts have been using practice SBAC tests since the beginning of this calendar year. His statement amounts to a claim that all of the teaching time spent in the first 7 months of this school year was a complete waste of time because districts now lack test preparation materials.

In the next several weeks, teachers are expecting training on procedures for administering the tests and understanding what universal tools (e.g. headphones, calculators, undo/redo options) are available for the test. This is not preparation for what is on the test. That training occurred last fall for area assessment coordinators who were responsible for training the teachers in their district. Any funding decisions at this point would not affect that preparation.

Later this spring, Missouri students take their first Common Core test. While this year, it’s more or less a practice test, some administrators say it’s hard to know what to expect.

“This has really become about the test and that’s the biggest concern,” Dr. Seiler said.

Truth:  That last statement is very true. It really is becoming all about the test and not about the hours of lesson planning, alignment of curriculum to the standards or professional development on the standards that we have spent time and money on at the district level. The test only measures a fraction of everything the students have been taught, but the test is the only thing that matters.

Dr. Seiler says it’s been a tough transition already and a new court ruling has complicated it further.

“It changes things because since Missouri cannot be a member of the smarter balance consortium we don’t have access to all of the tools, all the information that’s out there,” Dr. Seiler said.

Truth:  The testing Consortia are prohibited from denying anyone access to the test as it was 100% created with federal funds appropriated from the ARRA. In an SBAC memo from 6/246/14 Freely Available Policy Rationale, SBAC has confirmed,

… the federal government intended that the materials developed using the Race to the Top federal grant would be free to any state. Further, some argue that a state’s prior membership fees should provide continued access to Consortium materials developed in part with those member fees. This note responds to this question and the underlying premise.

The Department expects that any state or entity wishing to administer the consortium’s assessment system (either the summative assessments or the entire assessment system) without modification after the grant period would be permitted to do so, provided they comply with the consortium’s requirements for administering the assessments.

States had a choice to be a governing member of the consortia or simply a purchaser of the test. DESE still plans to administer the SBAC test this spring and has said that the court ruling will have no effect on testing according to this administrative memo.

As a member of SBAC prior to Sauer v Nixon, Missouri was entitled to a “Vendor Specification Package,” that is “the set of requirements, analyses, specifications, and other materials that SB provides to Member for the purpose of facilitating Member’s use of one or more vendors for the implementation, operation, and delivery of  the Assessment System.”  DESE currently has a contract with McGraw Hill to administer the test this spring. They in turn had a contract with SBAC to develop test items and have access to the SBAC item bank through this VSP. However, if there is an entity denying Missouri school districts access to important test preparation materials it would be McGraw Hill. As a contracted vendor to the state, it is DESE’s responsibility to make sure that the vendor supplies the state with all needed materials to prepare for and administer the testing this spring. Any claims that SBAC is denying access to these materials are false.

Dr. Seiler says, a Cole County Court decided it unconstitutional for Missouri to be a part of a group that writes the Common Core test; it’s the same group that provides schools with information on how to ready their students for the test.

“These are the standards, these are the concepts, the objectives that kids need to know and do to be able to perform well on this test,” Dr. Seiler said.

Truth: The summary judgement by Judge Greene in Sauer v. Nixon actually said that the SBAC’s  “existence and operation violate the Compact Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Article I, § 10, cl. 3, as well as numerous federal statutes.” The fact that the Sauer v Nixon found that the operation of SBAC is illegal demonstrates DESE’s failure to grasp the comprehensive implication of the case. Dr. Seiler’s comments amount to an admission that without “the cheat sheet” schools have little hope of their students doing well on the test. What does that say about the test design? What does that say about our school district’s ability to choose their own curriculum?

With so much riding on these test scores, Dr. Seiler says going into the tests with little or no information could be detrimental.

“School districts are held accountable according to this test and you are handcuffing us because we can’t get the information we need to help our kids,” Dr. Seiler said.

Dr. Seiler says these new changes don’t change the fact that students have to take the Common Core tests, it simply affects their ability to prepare.

“There was already that up in the air. Now, that has been exasperated tremendously because they have taken this little bit of information that we had about the new smarter balance test away,” Dr. Seiler said.

The price that Missouri would have paid to be a member of the group from which they’d receive information about the tests $4.5 million.

The implication here is that it’s a “little bit of information” that will cost the state $4.5 million dollars. This is obviously false.
Note that the funding has not yet been stripped so nothing in the article is true with regards to testing this spring. This is all crocodile tears meant to scare the legislature into not voting to remove the appropriation for SBAC membership. The fact that HB1490 prohibited the use of test scores for the determination of district accreditation or teacher evaluation should provide districts with the assurance that the scores cannot hurt their standing. It should also be reason for districts to allow parents to opt out of this spring’s testing. Unfortunately that has not been the case and numerous parents have reported strong pushback from the districts to their refusal to allow their child to take the test. The source of that pushback is again DESE in the MSIP5 guidelines which were developed without district input in 2012.

For those who worry that the state needs testing to improve education, read this statement by the National Education Policy Center signed by over 2,000 education experts insisting that Congress abandon the standardized testing entrenched in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) because such

“test-focused reforms that not only have been discredited for high-stakes decisions, but also have shown to widen, not close, gaps and inequities…

Deep-rooted trends of ever-increasing social and educational needs, as well as fewer or stagnant resources, will inevitably lead to larger opportunity gaps and achievement gaps. Testing will document this, but it will do nothing to change it…

The problem is a system that favors a largely automated accounting of a narrow slice of students’ capacity and then attaches huge consequences to that limited information.”

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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