Clear up the testing confusion

SBAC is a test. It’s taken on the computer, and it’s for juniors. But what else do we know about it?

Students know more about quantum mechanics, William Shakespeare’s personal life and the culture of Burma than they know about the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

No one is giving us straight answers about SBAC. And it’s pretty hard to take a test if you don’t know anything about it.

Connecticut’s now former Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, said at a public hearing back in March 2014, “I don’t believe that there’s any specific provision in law regarding consequences [of opting out].”

However, in a March 4 statement, Connecticut’s Interim Commissioner of Education, Dianna R. Wentzell, sent out an email to superintendents saying, “Both state and federal laws require the administration of annual assessments in our public schools in certain grades and subjects. These laws do not provide a provision for parents to ‘opt-out’ their children from taking state tests.”

The Board of Education [BOE] backed up Wentzell at its March 9 meeting when the BOE presented a PowerPoint stating, “Students are required to sit for the test beginning with [the] Class of 2016.”

But then Superintendent Elliott Landon said in an email interview with Inklings, “If a parent elects not to have his/her child participate in this mandated test, the child will be required to sit quietly in a non-testing area and may read, do homework, or use his/her computer. No educational alternative will be available for that child during the testing periods.”

Though their messages seem to contradict, most overwhelming of all is that Pryor, Wentzell, the BOE and Landon are all correct.

It’s correct that there are no consequences specified in the law about opting out, and it’s true there are laws that require the state to administer the test. But students have also always had the option to take alternative routes for completing the graduation requirement associated with the test; all they need to do is have a parent send an email to Landon declaring their intent to opt out.

However, we still have more questions – not fewer.

For instance, what’s the point of taking the test? If many students choose to opt out, and if Staples doesn’t do as well as we’ve done in the past on standardized tests, like CAPT, will the district lose funding? And if we end up doing worse than we’ve done in the past, will the school structure change in a way that focuses more on conformity and less on creativity?

Additionally, we don’t even know much about Common Core – the curriculum that SBAC is supposedly testing and that we are implementing at Staples. What’s the point of it? What exactly are the Common Core standards?

We know we have a lot of questions, but we deserve some clear, succinct answers.

This is our education, after all.

If you’re going to change it, if you’re going to implement Common Core and replace CAPT with SBAC, explain it to us, just like you’d explain Einstein’s theory of general relativity, Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter and the four major language families of Burma.

We don’t like taking tests. But if we’re going to take one, let us know the details.