Connecticut Cuts Length of Testing in Grades 3-8


Connecticut education officials have decided to reduce the amount of time that students between grades three and eight spend taking standardized tests.

Officials say that one of the two components of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium exam will be cut, reducing the amount of time students spend on the test by 45 minutes. The part to be eliminated is a language arts section that involves essays that were often duplicating in-class work.

Critics of the testing have argued that it uses up too much instructional time. The new cuts could see testing time reduced by as much as 90 minutes, reports Linda Conner Lambeck for the CTPost.

Interim Schools Superintendent Fran Rabinowitz in Bridgeport said she was happy about the changes, although she expressed concerns over how the decision was made over which section to eliminate. She went on to say that she hopes the new results will give the state the information it needs concerning student strengths and weaknesses in addition to information it can use to change the curriculum.

Commissioner of Education Dianna Wentzell said her staff has determined that the remaining portions of the exam could offer such information.

However, not everyone believes the changes go far enough. The Connecticut Education Association, the largest teachers' union in the state, made a push to replace the test as a whole in January, arguing that the length of the exam was not developmentally appropriate or fair for all students, and especially young students, those in special education or English-language-learner programs, those who do not have access to a computer at home, or economically disadvantaged students.

The change in the SBAC does "very little in the context of what this test is doing regarding the denial of instruction," said Mark Waxenberg, executive director of the CEA. "It does not in any way reduce the hours and hours and hours of (test) preparation that is taking time away from the classroom."

The online exam has faced mounting criticism over causing school libraries or computer labs to become off-limits for months at a time in order to allow all the students taking the exam to rotate through. A total of 200,000 students in the state are expected to take the exam.

The announcement came last Thursday by Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy and Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell during a visit to Woodside Intermediate School in Cromwell. The pair were there to praise the use of a state grant by the school to reduce testing.

"We are working as hard as possible to be smart about testing, limit anxiety and boost learning time," Malloy said. "Tests are important — they help us measure ourselves and pinpoint how to improve. But where we find duplication, we should act."

The SBAC exam was introduced in the state last year to determine how well students were learning language arts and math under the Common Core curriculum standards. The six-hour exam is given to all students in the state between the third and eighth grades.

This year's testing, featuring the shortened exam, is set to begin this week.

According to federal law, students in grades three through eight must complete year-end standardized tests.

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