Connecticut Kids Improve on Smarter Balanced Exams

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

Students in Connecticut who took the state’s Smarter Balanced test in the spring showed improvement over last year’s scores, but less than 50% of the state’s learners are meeting or exceeding the math achievement standards, according to Kathleen Megan of the Hartford Courant:

“We are really pleased and excited to announce that scores on our Smarter Balanced Assessment are up across the board in Connecticut,” Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell said in a conference call with reporters Thursday. “We had confidence that our students would rise to meet the challenges of these new, more rigorous standards and they really did deliver.”

The results offer the first opportunity in years for the state to analyze year-to-year improvement on standardized exams because this is only the second consecutive year that all schools in the state have given the new computerized Smarter Balanced Assessment. Pupils in grades 3-8 took the exam.

Forty-four percent of students met or exceeded the math achievement standard for the state. This rating was 3.9 percentage points higher than last year’s scores.

And 55.7% of learners met or exceeded the state’s English Language Arts standards, a 3.3 percentage point increase from the previous year.

A retired California-based educational measurement specialist, Doug McCrae, who has been in this business for 50 years, said a gain of three or four percentage points deserves a solid grade of B+. If this level of performance can be repeated over several years, results will be very positive, he said.

McCrae added that the increase could be based on the familiarity students acquired from using the computerized format on the test last year rather than solely on better academic achievement.

Students of all races showed improvement on the assessment, but the data shows a stubborn achievement gap between black and Hispanic students and white pupils persisting. And the gap has become wider as white students’ scores climb slightly more than those of Hispanic and black schoolchildren. Education officials said, however, that statistically, the gap is stable.

Wentzell noted that the gap is closing among third graders. It could be because these students have only learned from lessons aligned with the more rigorous Common Core standards. The Smarter Balanced test is based on the Common Core.

The Commissioner is encouraged about Connecticut’s low-performing Alliance Districts improved performance. Roughly half of the districts improved more quickly than the state in general.

The test was taken by about 234,000 students, and the participation rate was approximately 97%, much the same number as last year, reports Linda Conner Lambeck of Hearst Media Services Connecticut.

Some, such as the Connecticut Education Association, Connecticut’s largest teachers union, say that too much time is taken away from classroom instruction because of the lengthy test-taking regimen. But Wentzell says it is a civil rights issue used to make certain that all learners have access to the best education available.

In another article written by Kathleen Megan for the Hartford Courant, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell were asked if half the students who took the Smarter Balanced Assessments met or exceeded the recommended scores, is the Connecticut education “glass” half-full or half-empty.

Wentzell’s answer was that the state bought a much bigger glass. The previous standardized assessments were not accurate measures of whether pupils were developing their skills for college and career readiness. Even with high scores on the prior evaluations, many students had to take remedial classes to be able to take on college-level courses.

Governor Malloy explained that Connecticut topped other states by nearly 5 points, which he suggested was good news. But Jeff Villar, executive director of the Connecticut Council on Education Reform, said:

“The governor is 100 percent correct. Connecticut is showing positive progress measured by improved graduation rates and year over year Smarter Balanced Scores which is good news. However, no matter how you dice it, nearly fifty percent of our Alliance Districts failed to make the level of progress that their peers have despite the addition of significant state funding and intervention. We must expect that all Alliance Districts to make high levels of progress. In school, a 50 is still an F.”