sbacThis spring districts across the state will be administering the SBAC math and ELA tests to students in 3rd and 8th grade. A modified (shortened) version is planned for the other grades below 8. The state has also proposed that all 11th graders take the ACT, the cost thereof being borne by the state. That’s a lot of testing – $26 million worth according to DESE’s budget request. Is it all necessary? Is it even legal?

According to state statute 160.526.  2  “Within six months prior to implementation of or modification or revision to the statewide assessment system, 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.”

Guess what Superintendents. DESE did not supply the Speaker nor Pro Tempore with those reports on validity and reliability. They couldn’t because the tests had only been given as pilots, to a limited number of students in a few states. It takes a lot of students taking a test to develop validity and reliability data that is statistically significant. Most of the piloting of SBAC was to take the chassis around the track and see if the pieces hung together. They were not collecting fuel economy data. The piloting was done to see if the on-line delivery system was adequate. And as far as that goes the answer was a resounding NO. Because they had so many problems with the test crashing they really could not begin assessing whether the questions themselves were any good. Requiring the test puts DESE in violation of state law.

So now the state is asking you to administer the test again this spring. It seems hell bent on using Missouri students to continue to be product development testers. In HB1490 they call the test a pilot which is really all they can call it. The law says the state cannot use any of the scoring data from the pilot to make any determinations about your district or your teachers. No one knows if the test is a good measure of student knowledge, let alone any kind of measure of teacher effectiveness.

On top of that, there seems to be some question about whether the ELA portion of the test will even be ready by spring. Last I read, they were still trying to figure out how they were going to get the performance items scored. One of the top suggestion was to use your teachers as unpaid employees of SBAC to do the scoring for them. I’m sure they won’t mind.

Yet I get calls every week from parents who are being told that their students must take these tests, that they are somehow vital to the student and the school.  When Superintendents are asked how they know that these tests are vital, they have no answer other than the fact that the state has required them to administer the test.  Even the empty future promise that the tests will give teachers vital information about student progress in order to improve their teaching simply cannot be made with a straight face at this point in time.

Remember those stories a few months back about students crying during the tests, getting headaches and begging not to go to school? Guess who holds 100% of the liability for administering the tests that cause these symptoms yet provide NO useful information about a student’s educational progress to the school? That’s right. It’s the school district. The plan is to set the initial proficiency cut point at 30%, meaning that 70% of your students will, by design, score below proficient. So if you are foolish enough to use the test results as a basis for student tracking or course selection, you will hold 100% of the liability if you misdirect a student’s course choice because of faulty data that has no reliability and validity.

I have never been able to decide if being the Show Me state means that we are prepared to show others the right path, or if that means that we won’t do anything until someone else show’s us that the effort is worthwhile and effective. If it is the latter, I hope we learn from the folly of other states like California when it comes to the SBAC test.

In a letter signed by University of California President Janet Napolitano, the state university system promised to use SBAC as a screening tool for college readiness. “Our collaborative efforts will help ensure that the tests measure standards that our K-12 and higher education systems all agree address appropriate expectations for the preparation of high school graduates who are ready to succeed. Students who earn a “college ready” determination on the Smarter Balanced tests will be able to skip remedial courses and enroll in entry-level, credit-bearing work at college and university systems that agree to honor those scores for placement purposes.”

That would be great if only it were true. It is far too early to know if SBAC is a reasonable screening tool for college readiness. The very structure of the standards themselves would lead one to believe that it will not be.  The article in Education Week goes on to point out, “One potential hitch in the University of California’s potential use of the Smarter Balanced test for course placement lies in the math standards. The UC system considers calculus an entry-level course. But in the common standards, that subject is covered in one of the so-called “plus standards”—available for students aiming for math or science majors, but not required, so not reflected in the Smarter Balanced exam. Without knowing how ready a student is for college-level calculus, it might be difficult for the UC system to use the Smarter Balanced college-readiness score to place students in those courses.”

Experimental test with no data to show that it measures what it claims to measure and a strong indication that it does not measure college readiness which is part of the state’s 10×20 plan, and based on standards that the state is jettisoning in year. Yeah, sounds like something we should be forcing on our students to take this spring.


Published October 10, 2014

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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