are on the verge of adopting new standardized tests in order to accommodate the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), a set of English Language Arts and Mathematics standards adopted by 45 states including Connecticut in 2010.
At a Board of Education meeting Tuesday night, the board accepted plans to ask Connecticut’s Department of Education to administer the Smarter Balanced Test in 2014, as opposed to the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT), which the district has used for years. The Smarter Balanced Test is aligned to the Common Core State Standards.
Last year, the first in which the CCSS were fully implemented in grades three through eight, the district continued using the CMT. The percentage of students scoring at goal — or at the highest level of achievement — across all grade levels and in all subjects fell by 2.2 percentage points, to 40 percent. State and local officials attributed the decline to the adoption of the new CSSS, which do not cover all the material that is tested on the CMT.
“Half the things that are tested on the math CMT aren’t even taught in third grade under the CCSS,” said Imma Canelli, NHPS’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, who presented at Tuesday’s BOE meeting.
New Haven mirrored a statewide trend: scores on the 2013 CMT, released in August, dropped statewide and across all grade levels tested. However, the Elm City saw unusually steep declines in third grade math scores, with 29.9 percent scoring at goal compared to 41.7 percent last year. Statewide, the number of third graders scoring at goal in math dropped about five percentage points. Scores on the Connecticut Academic Performance Test, administered to 10th graders, rose slightly across the state.
Connecticut will not require school districts to administer tests aligned to the CCSS until 2015, but administrators in New Haven have decided that due to the curricular difference between the two tests, the district should move earlier to the Smarter Balance Tests (SBT). Canelli said New Haven will administer the SBT in 2014 as long as Connecticut receives a waiver from the federal government to give districts in Connecticut the choice to implement the new test.
In spite of the startling decline in CMT scores, teachers and administrators are not concerned, Canelli said. The CCSS are more rigorous than the old standards and will result in improved college readiness for students, despite the initial decline in scores, said Kelly Donnelly, director of communications for the Connecticut Department of Education.
“Our previous set of standards could be characterized as a mile wide and an inch deep, whereas the Common Core covers fewer topics, but in greater depth,” Donnelly said.
Canelli said the gap between the standards and the test was particularly wide in third grade math — the grade level that saw the steepest decline in scores. She added that she is not worried because students performed well on the aspects of the test that were a part of the school’s curriculum.
The challenge for teachers last year was transitioning to the new, more rigorous standards while also trying to prepare their students for tests based on the old standards, middle school science teacher Kaitlin Renkosiak told the News in an email. Renkosiak, who teaches at the Wexler-Grant School, added that she found herself performing a balancing act between standards and test prep, because “it’s not a remotely close alignment.”
If New Haven adopts the Smarter Balance Tests this year, teachers in other subjects will be relieved from the job of trying to prepare students to take the CMT, Renkosiak said. But the state will continue using the CMT to test fifth and eighth graders in science because alternative tests have not yet been developed, she added. Renkosiak said she will focus on teaching the new standards over test preparation.
“A teacher should never ‘teach to a test,’ but rather should ‘teach to a skill,’” Renkosiak said. “And this is exactly what I plan on doing in my classroom this year.”
Elizabeth Carroll, director of education studies at Yale College, said that although the CCSS were well-designed and more rigorous than previous standards, she is concerned that they were rolled out too quickly and with too little support for teachers during the transition period. Carroll also cautioned that when the SBT is first administered, whether this happens in 2014 or in 2015, scores may be low due to teachers’ and students’ lack of experience with the test, and because of the new, more rigorous standards.
“The students haven’t dramatically changed but the way we’re measuring them has,” Carroll said.
The standards will be fully implemented statewide during the 2014–2015 school year.