raining fish

A teacher/mom takes the SBAC practice test and will be refusing the upcoming assessments for her children.  She explains why:

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March 30th is right around the corner and that can only mean one thing for Missouri students: the start of testing season. This year students in Missouri as well as twenty other states will take the new high-stakes assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards.   Schools across the state have been doing their best to prepare students for the great unknown. Kids have been tested, benchmarked, and prepped in the hopes of them doing well on the assessments. In the past, Missouri students have been given the MAP or Missouri Assessment Program tests. This year the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) is continuing to call the assessments MAP tests. The actuality is that our students will take the new Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests in their place.

 

As a parent and teacher, I have had many questions about the new SBAC tests with regards to reliability and validity, and about DESE being able to successfully deliver those tests to all Missouri students in a manner which protects the integrity of the tests. As I began to research the subject, I became increasingly alarmed at the research others have done with regards to test validity. In Missouri, as well as other states, these tests will carry significant consequences not only to schools, but to the teachers administering them as well. Next year, this will be the high-stakes tool used as part of district accreditation as well as evaluating teachers. I have heard many stories of teachers logging in to take the practice test and not being able to pass. They have reported reading passages that are not on grade level and in fact extremely challenging for the average student. They have also reported difficulty navigating the universal tools that will be available to students, as well as ambiguous answer choices that are extremely difficult to differentiate between right and wrong, thus leading to fatigue and confusion. Many adults claim that they simply gave up due to the confusing nature and difficulty navigating the test.

 

I decided to log on to the SBAC portal and peek at the middle school level practice tests. What I found was truly astounding! As a reading teacher who is accustomed to judging reading passages for text complexity and difficulty, I immediately noticed that the test I was looking at was not on level.  My son is in 6th grade and an average reader with a reading level considered on grade level. When I had him read a writing question, he struggled to get to the end of the passage. He had an even more difficult time understanding the four answer choices given. Curiosity got the best of me so I decided to do a readability test on several different passages from the 6th Grade ELA SBAC practice test. Please understand that I was only looking for an approximate grade level equivalency score to get an idea of the difficulty and level of the text. This is not scientific by any means, but simply a mom and reading teacher wanting answers to my own questions. I wanted a quick check to confirm my suspicions, with the hope that I was wrong.

 

For the test I used readability-score , a website which allows the user to enter text as it calculates the readability of the passage using formulas for six commonly used measures. The site then gives the user a grade level average based on all six scores. Each measurement tool has its own unique way of scoring, but the idea is generally the same. In order to gather an accurate reliability measure, the tool calculates such things as sentence length, total number of words, and word lengths to estimate the complexity and difficulty of the texts. Some of the measures even use syllable count in the calculation. I chose to focus on one specific measure, the Flesch-Kincaid for ease of comparison and because the Dept. of Education used it in a 2011 report to test the readability of passages on a 4th grade NAEP reading assessment to compare that to an international study. Please, please, please, keep in mind that I am fully aware that multiple measures should always be used in scientific studies, but I simply wanted a quick check. If a 6th grade starts school in August, by the time testing begins in April, they should be reading at 6.8 or 6.9, meaning grade 6, 8th or 9th month. Passages should stay within a range as to not be too easy or too challenging in order to get the most accurate results. When trying to gauge where students are in comparison to others their age, norms should not swing too far either way. High-stakes, standardized tests should not contain extremely challenging and difficult texts to measure whether a child can make an inference, explain cause and effect, or choose an appropriate transition statement for an essay. If we really want to know what a child has learned and if they can apply what they have learned, we as a nation and a state have to move away from these self-defeating measures. If the measure is not developmentally appropriate, students will simply give up and click the test away! No amount of “Grit” will ever help a struggling reader do well on a standardized test when they can’t even get through the first paragraph.

 

The SBAC practice test passages were not able to simply be copied and pasted into the readability tool, so I had to manually type them in.  (See passages below).  As I typed, I was stunned at the level being calculated. The grade levels started registering at the 8th, 9th, and 11th grade equivalencies! I began with the nonfiction passage about fish falling from the sky, no joke! In order to assure that I had enough of the passage typed in to get an accurate measure, I typed in 250-300 words. For that passage the grade level was rated at 8.6.   In education terms, this means the 8th grade year, 6th month. I took a screen shot of another SBAC sample from the SBAC portal. I then entered it into the tool. I also took a screen shot of the readability tool which shows the Flesch-Kincaid grade level score of that test writing question and an answer choice. That particular passage registered a grade equivalent of 9.6! I know Common Core was supposed to “raise the rigor”, but this is absurd! Again, out of curiosity I researched and found a 2009 NAEP released reading passage for 8th grade and tested that passage. That 8th grade passage excerpt came in at a 9.8. That score is very appropriate for an average 8th grader at that point in the school year. I only mention the NAEP since it is an assessment given to 4th, 8th, and 12th grade students in the United States, on a random basis and it is often referred to as the Nation’s report card.

 

fish sbac+6th+grade+sample
Flying fish SBAC passage

 

 

2 SBAC+6th+grade+ELA+practice+test+writing+question
Screenshot of actual SBAC practice test

 

 

 

Flech-Kincaid+Readability+Level+6th+Grade+ELA+SBAC+Practice+Writing+Item
Passage typed into Readiblity Score by teacher

 

 

 

3 Flech-Kincaid+Readability+Level+8th+Grade+NAEP+2009+Released+Reading+Passage
2009 NAEP released reading passage from The Nation’s Report Card

 

Basically, the 6th grade ELA practice test is measuring our 6th graders at a level used for 8th grade measurement on a nationally normed and validated assessment! We as parents and educators have been told repeatedly that the practice tests are an excellent indication of the text and question types students can expect when they log on to the assessments for the first time. If this is truly the case, every parent, educator and administrator should be outraged at what our kids will be forced to endure during Missouri’s grueling testing window. Parents need to ask their school how long will these tests take? Ask about the 5th and 8th grade testing time estimate. Districts across the state are in a living nightmare trying to schedule enough time to make sure they are following DESE’s assessment protocol on timing. It is estimated that the 8th grade test alone could take fifteen hours to complete since students have unlimited time. We as parents and educators need to start asking why? There are other ways to assess what kids know and can do. High-stakes assessments such as the SBAC should be thrown out and our state needs to start over!

It is for all of the above reasons that I will be making the choice to opt my children out of these abusive tests and I urge all Missouri parents to do the same. By the way, the readability of this post is 9.2 according to the Flesch-Kincaid measure.

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(Raining fish graphic from wikipedia)

 

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