Students and teachers in Vermont can breathe a collective sigh of relief today, because scores from the brand new standardized test they have been practicing will not be used this year to rank their schools.
The new exam, called the Smarter Balanced Test, replaces the New England Common Assessment Program exam, or NECAP, which has been discontinued because it does not align closely with new national academic standards called the Common Core. The Smarter Balanced test is supposed to measure competency in math and language arts in third through eighth and eleventh grade.
The new test is widely considered more difficult than the test it replaces. Since many of Vermont's middle and high school students have not yet been consistently taught English and math according to the new Common Core guidelines, the Vermont Board of Education has decided it would be unfair to ask those students to reach goals that have only been recently set for them, without enough time to adjust to Common Core teaching.
“Until students’ education has been guided by the new standards and schools have practiced administering and interpreting SBAC [Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium], the results will not support reliable and valid inferences about student performance and should not be used as the basis for any consequential purpose," wrote Board Chairman Stephan Morse in an op-ed Friday. "Unless empirical studies confirm a sound relationship between performance on the SBAC and critical and valued life outcomes (“college and career-ready”), test results should not be used to make consequential judgments about schools and students."
The board also worries that the tech skills required just to take the test, which is given only online, create an uneven playing field for schools.
“Districts with more access and whose students have more familiarity with technology will find it easier to administer these tests. Will the tests measure reading and mathematics or will they measure computer access and literacy? Over time, the computer adaptive tests will likely be better than their predecessors as they hold strong promise for individualizing and testing knowledge in applied settings. This is an improvement from other tests, yet it is a substantial change and, therefore, SBAC scores cannot be compared with earlier NECAP scores,” Morse writes.
Vermont is not the only state pushing the “pause” button on using the new test to evaluate schools. The federal government has loosened regulations even for states like Vermont, which have not sought waivers from the assessments required by the No Child Left Behind Law.
Vermont Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe expects the U.S. Department of Education will allow the state to administer the test as a pilot, "with no consequences this year," she says. "But districts will be able to use the results to improve teaching and learning."
Vermont’s Board of Education notes that public schools are already under pressure to adopt the state’s own evolving set of academic standards and assessments, and that the Smarter Balanced test is just one of many ways to measure student achievement.