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So Long, CMT
by Melissa Bailey | Oct 16, 2013 7:28 am
Posted to: Schools, School Reform
New Haven is preparing to ditch the Connecticut Mastery Test for a new test—and now faces a technological challenge.
The school board has until the end of the week to let the state know if it plans to keep using the same standardized tests—the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) for grades 3 to 8 and Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) for sophomores—or get a head start rolling out a new one.
The new test, called the Smarter Balanced Field Test, is part of a movement taking hold across the country to align schools to new national standards called the Common Core. The Common Core specifies benchmarks each kid should be able to reach in English and math from K to 12. Connecticut is one of 45 states that have agreed to adopt the new standards. New Haven has already started changing the way teachers teach to fit the new guidelines.
The Common Core has “fewer standards, clearer standards and higher standards” than the current curriculum, said Superintendent Garth Harries.
Starting in the 2014-15 school year, every district in Connecticut will be required to switch to a new test that is supposed to measure whether kids are meeting the new standards. Schools will start using the Smarter Balanced tests in English and math for grades 3 to 8. The high school Smarter Balance tests will be given during junior year, not sophomore year. Smarter Balanced will replace the CMT and CAPT, high-stakes tests on which schools have been graded, ranked and apportioned federal and state grants according to the No Child Left Behind Act.
This year, the state is giving districts an option: Stick with the CMT and CAPT, or get a head start on taking the new tests.
“By Friday, we need to make a decision as to what we choose,” Assistant Superintendent Imma Canelli told the school board at Tuesday’s meeting at Career High School.
The decision applies just to English and math. The new science standards have not yet been released, so the new science tests aren’t ready. So students in grades 5, 8 and 10 will continue taking the CMT and CAPT science tests this year and next.
Canelli said the district is moving forward with plans to adopt the new tests this year and stop using the CMT and CAPT. She outlined several factors the district weighed in its decision.
On the upside: Switching now gives teachers and students an extra year to get used to the tests, she said. And the district has already been preparing by adapting its curriculum to the Common Core.
On the downside: There’s a major technological challenge. While the CMT and CAPT required only pencil and paper, the new tests require computers. One computer for every test-taker.
School board member Alex Johnston (at right in photo with Major John DeStefano) asked how many hours each test will take per child.
Canelli said she has asked the state that question and she has not yet heard back. So schools can’t yet come up with a specific plan on how they will schedule all the kids to take the tests.
Johnston also noted a possible problem: Schools that don’t have many computers may have to stretch out the testing over six weeks. That wouldn’t be fair, he said, because some kids would have much more time to learn from their teachers before they take the tests.
The tech department is counting all the computers in every school and replacing outdated computers so that schools are equipped to administer the test, Canelli replied. She said a recent $11 million federal magnet grant will help bear that cost.
Superintendent Garth Harries said in his “listening tour” around town, he has heard a lot about inequity in technology between schools. He acknowledged the problem. “We’re going to have to wrestle with that regardless” of the new tests, he said.
Canelli also announced two drawbacks she gleaned from a recent conference call last week with Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor: Even though the tests are computerized, students and teachers will have to wait until the fall of 2014 to get the test results. And kids won’t be able to benefit from one of the advantages of computerized testing—that the computer can change the test to give kids harder or easier questions based on their previous responses. The tests won’t be able to do that this year, Canelli said.
Career High teacher Jen Drury, a vocal critic of standardized tests, balked at those announcements.
“In order to be meaningful, assessments need to be timely,” she said. “We didn’t get our CAPT scores until mid-August this year,” which put schools in a crunch to digest and respond to the results before the next school year. “Now we’re not going to get them until fall?”
“Just keep pushing our kids, pushing our kids, and we can’t tell them how they scored [for] six months?”
Students in other places, such as New York, have seen scores plummet when they switched to new Common Core-aligned tests. Drury said she feared that without “adaptive” testing, in which the computer adjusts its difficulty to each kid’s level, the experience would be even more emotionally taxing for kids.
“If it’s not adaptive, it’s going to be a really hard test for our children. They might feel defeated,” she said.
Board member Che Dawson noted another concern: Schools face a disparity not just in how many computers they have, but in how well kids know how to use them.
“Even if you got everyone a computer, they still aren’t used to using them,” he said.
Harries acknowledged the problem: “We need to really own that issue.” he said the observation is “accurate, both in the schools and elsewhere.”
Sue Weisselberg, the school system’s chief of wraparound services, said the test will require computer skills, such as using a keyboard and mouse, that many kids have not developed.
“People know how to text, but that’s not the same as keyboarding for a test,” she said. They “need to know how to drag and drop.” Canelli said schools will be training kids on computer skills, focusing on grades 2 to 5.
Marc Gonzalez (pictured at the top of this story), a 7th-grader at East Rock Magnet School, said his class took a pilot version of the Smarter Balanced test last year. He said the test included a “click and drag” section, where students had to click on answers, drag them across a screen, then “drop” them in a certain spot.
“Click ‘n’ drag was definitely one of the harder parts of the test,” said Marc, who’s 12. He said students found the task frustrating because if they released the mouse too soon, they would “lose the answer,” and they had to go back and start dragging it again. The problem was mechanical, not academic, he said: “They have the answer, but they can’t get it there.”
Weisselberg said she will be rounding up not-for-profits and community groups to enlist them in training students in computer skills.
Schools IT director Kevin Moriarty said as he replaces old computers in schools, he is turning them over to a not-for-profit that will “take those old PCs, teach kids how to use them, teach kids how to fix them, and then give them to low-income families.” That should help bridge the digital divide, he said.
Harries noted that “teaching the computer skills is not a substitute to the underlying reading and math skills.”
And despite the technological challenges, he said, it makes sense to move forward with the new tests. “There aren’t many people who will mourn the CMT and the CAPT. I haven’t heard anyone say, ‘Oh please, let them take the CMT or the CAPT.’”
The change in tests also throws a wrench in the city’s school reform effort, which laid out goals for how kids should score on the CMTs and CAPT over time. Those scores are a partial basis for a new way of grading teachers, principals, and schools. Teachers’ job evaluations are based in part on goals they set for their kids’ improvement on tests. Harries said that because of the upcoming switch in testing, the district has been suggesting other ways of measuring student improvement besides the CMT.
Harries said he plans to address the broader issue—of how New Haven will redefine its school change goals after abandoning a fundamental measure of its success—at a November board meeting.
Tags: common core, smarter balanced, cmt, capt
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These new tests promise to open a painful and costly chapter in New Haven Public Schools. Once the district “finds” the millions to buy thousands of new computers for testing (what “budget crisis”?), they will expand online classes and “save money” by firing teachers. The children will get terrible scores on these “rigorous” tests, and the teachers will be blamed… most will be demoralized and some fired because they didn’t “do enough” to raise test scores.
Sorry for the doom & gloom, but this is how the corporate privatization of our schools is happening.
Honest question to the educators here. How do you propose that we measure if our children are learning what they are supposed to be learning? I agree that standardized tests stink and hate the “teaching to the test” phenomenon. I would be interested in hearing alternatives.
Collaborating with colleagues helps me become a better teacher. I don’t think any teacher would refute that (at least I hope not). I think it could also help me build even better assessments. If schools and districts built communities of practice, teachers could have the time and opportunity to dialogue with colleagues about our effectiveness. It would allow us to create realistic assessments, matching the way we assess to the learning goal, and in giving feedback that helps students know where they stand, bottom line. If we were looked at as true professionals, this would already be in place.
One problem that I have is that almost all of our summative assessments are weak due to the fact that students don’t participate in enough meaningful experiences to get them there. Teachers have to many time restrictions to have students reach mastery, especially in the elementary grades. This obviously will widen the achievement gap as we drag students from one grade to the next before they are ready.
Most assessments, whether state, district, or whatever mandated don’t allow enough room and time for creativity, or the chance for students to truly bounce things off their “colleagues’ to become more authentic learners.
I learn the most about my students’ learning when they demonstrate their understanding of an idea by sharing a model they’ve created or by presenting their thinking to an audience in a way that makes sense to them. I feel the same way about working with my ‘colleagues’.
posted by: Tom Burns on October 16, 2013 8:54pm
Tim Shortt is a real teacher—and we will get there in New Haven as we totally reject standardized tests as the only measure for our students. it is one of many—but Shortty gets it right and that’s what we do in New Haven—nowhere else in the world, but here—to all you parents out there—I guarantee you are in good hands—you are lucky—we LEAD the whole country in thought and deed—and we have raised our game immensely and we want all you parents to be a part of plan and the game—so you naysayers can find someone else to spew your negativity on—but you cant do it here—cause we got it right—Tom
“Honest question to the educators here. How do you propose that we measure if our children are learning what they are supposed to be learning? I agree that standardized tests stink and hate the “teaching to the test” phenomenon. I would be interested in hearing alternatives.”
You ask them. I don’t have kids but I’ve been around them long enough to know what they’ve learned. Does a child learn anything before compulsory education? YES! How do you know? How *does* a parent know that a child has learned something?
The parent asks…for response, for demonstration, for reflection.
Teachers do this, too.
How does learning NOT happen? Even when doing nothing a child is still learning…learning that doing nothing is/is not interesting.
Your real question might be, “How does society know that a teacher is doing his/her job?”
Walk into that teacher’s classroom. You can pretty much tell after a few moments whether or not children are learning from that teacher.
The problem is this: budget cuts (mainly due to poverty…lack of taxes)
We used to have department heads and/or MORE administrators who were supposed to know what was going on in the building. Now most administrators (cuts in administration are deep) are stretched too thinly. They deal mainly with discipline instead of classroom instruction.
Want to know something: Not every kid needs to go to college.
This is the dirty secret “they” won’t tell you. But every kid needs to learn to navigate their world (their community)...and we lose that when we focus on trying to push kids to college.
Want to know if teachers are doing their jobs, ask the people in the community 5 years later, after HS graduation. “Now that you are an adult, how well do you feel your school prepared you for life?”
It is easy to get rid of “bad"teachers…administrators need to be able to get around the building more. You can hire more administrators if you stop paying for things like more computers so kids can test.
NMFN, You ask some good questions and I assume you are not an educator by the sounds of it…..
How do we assess Student Learning?? Curriculum dictates what needs to be taught by grade level, teachers plan and teach it, provide practice activities, and then assess through student work and teacher made assessments. I was fortunate enough to work for awhile in a school that supported Portfolio Assessment. It was obvious to the student, parent, and teacher what students were learning and what needed to be worked on.
Secondly, “How does society know a teacher is doing their job?”....well, go spend some time in your child’s classroom. Look around. If the environment seems organized and filled with student work and appropriate supplies and bulletin boards, that is a good sign that the teacher is doing their job. If one walks in and kids are all over the place, or looking bored, or the room is disorganized, or the teacher is constantly blabbing from the front of the room w/o student engagement then that is a bad sign. Standardized tests are not the way to assess students or teachers. This Common Core sounds like a disaster and I feel fortunate to be retired and working in a small private school that supports developmentally appropriate learning strategies. Student led conferences are also a wonderful way to engage parents and students in their progress.
Please NO MORE DISTRICT HEADS….they are mostly bullies who do nothing to support learning. I have met a few educated, progressive principals in NH but not many. Most tend to intimidate and rarely offer constructive advice to teachers. I have known many good teachers who have left NH because of the fact that they have been bullied and harassed by their admins. Please remember teachers pay out of their pockets for masters sixth year degrees. We are not a bunch of dummies thrown into classrooms and expected to teach. We are professionals that care and believe in what we do!