Connecticut to Ask for Flexibility in Assessment System Rollout

Connecticut education officials are planning to ask the US Department of Education for flexibility to change the rollout schedule for new school accountability measures in order to prevent kids from having to take double the number of standardized tests next year.

The state is in the midst of a rollout of new standardized tests as part of the Common Core State Standards adoption process, and the tests have implications for both students and teachers. Jacqueline Rabe Thomas of The CT Monitor reports on the Wednesday’s press conference where Governor Dannel P. Malloy also announced that the state will be seeking a similar accommodation for its teacher assessment system of which students’ standardized test scores will form a large component.

Specifically, the State Department of Education plans to ask for a one-year delay before the requirement to use the test scores in assessing teacher effectiveness kicks in. The department will also request that districts be allowed to choose which set of tests their students will take next spring. District officials will be able to choose between the new Common Core exams or the old tests used in the state in prior years and scheduled to be phased out after the spring of 2014.

“This is a choice,” Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Wednesday to the state panel of educators who created the new evaluation system. “I believe these are common-sense measures.”

Members of the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council — which includes leaders from the associations representing school boards and principals and the teachers’ unions — unanimously approved the state making this flexibility request. The State Board of Education is expected to sign off on the flexibility request on Monday.

“It’s absolutely essential for our districts to be fair,” said Shelia Cohen, president of the Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union.

Connecticut is one of the states that has made a commitment to adopting the new Common Core Standards, a state-led nationwide effort to create a more rigorous set of unified academic metrics. Common Core also encourages a less traditional approach to instruction, emphasizing critical thinking in favor of rote memorization.

The standardized tests that use Common Core benchmarks are set to be fully rolled out in the state by the 2014-15 academic year.

This new evaluation system was as the center of the governor’s education reform initiative that became law after a contentious debate last year. Those new requirements ensure the state’s 50,000 teachers will be graded every year based on the results of their students’ standardized tests, announced and unannounced classroom observations, and possibly surveys and other measures. The results from these evaluations will help districts make tenure and dismissal decisions.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan last month wrote state officials to inform them that he is supportive of giving states flexibility to ensure a smooth rollout of these reforms.