To the Editor:
Smarter Balance Assessment is a misnomer; especially if you are a junior in high school. Like the amazing plate spinners seen in the circus, many of our juniors balance heavy course loads, extracurricular activities, and jobs while determining a post secondary life path. The last thing they need is an extraneous plate added to the stage. But that is what our state and district have chosen to do.
In February, the State of Department of Education (SDE) in Connecticut determined that it would be necessary for the junior class to field test the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC). Our district agreed. Next week, juniors will dedicate hours of their academic time to take tests that hold absolutely no value to them, but serve SBAC's needs : for Quality Assurance; to Establish Achievement Standards; and “Determine whether technological systems and administration logistics are ready for implementation of the assessment system in the 2014-2015 school year” www.smarterbalanced.org/field-test/.
In a profession that demands empathy in order to balance expectations with instruction, those at the highest level of educational oversight appear to have failed to take into consideration the perspective of the junior class when making their decision. These are students who: believed they had completed all the mandated mastery test requirements with the completion of the CAPT their sophomore year; are in the midst of taking arduous college entrance exams, and preparing to take Advanced Placement exams; have been led to believe the focus of their last two years of high school should be dedicated to rigorous academic pursuits to better position themselves in a highly competitive post secondary world.
Rather than acknowledge the overwhelming amount of pressure junior year presents, the SDE gave them another plate to spin. When I contacted the SDE and district administrators to ask questions to help me determine if my junior should be field testing the SBAC, the answers I received created a new mental image for me – that of test crash mannequins. The sole purpose of juniors taking the SBAC is to absorb the impact of glitches so others can survive.
I proposed the SDE utilize the skill set of students who have years of experience taking mastery tests under their belt, who do not have mandated mastery tests scheduled for this academic year, and who actively participate in taking practice tests to prepare them for requisite high stakes testing the following year: high school freshmen. It is the freshmen that have a stake in quality assurance, test reliability, and the district’s technological system readiness. They are the consumers who will be behind the wheel of SBAC’s assessment vehicle next year, not the junior class.
Junior year is the crescendo of years of preparation for post secondary life. Students move across the academic stage hoping to balance academic requirements with the need to breathe. As parents and educators, we help them achieve that balance by monitoring the number of plates suspended, not by adding more.
Karen C. Pierce
10 Chestnut Hill Road, Sandy Hook March 11, 2014