Educators disappointed with Smarter Balance tests


Educators disappointed with Smarter Balance tests

11:32 a.m. PST November 17, 2015

Educators are not happy with the Smarter Balanced Assessment tests.

In a recent survey, more than 1,200 Oregon educators said the tests caused a significant loss of time for learning, had a negative impact on students with special learning needs, and presented substantial challenges for inadequately resourced schools, particularly with respect to technology.

“The comments from these educators did not surprise us, but it doesn’t make them any less heartbreaking” said OEA President Hanna Vaandering. “When taken in their entirety, they give us a better picture of what our students are facing — and even more incentive to create a better assessment system for them.”

Judy Harris, a teacher from Central Point, is part of the assessment task force assembled by OEA and Oregon’s Chief Education Office. She said she saw her own experience echoed in the survey responses.

“Reading through these comments was incredibly affirming and cathartic” she said. “Of course I am profoundly saddened that other students experienced what mine did. But when I read those comments, and they so closely matched what my students had been through, it renewed my commitment to changing this system.

“Assessments should help my students understand where they are in their own learning path, not steal time from their learning, or cause them to lose hope,” she said.

In a recent conference call, Harris spoke of one student in particular, who eventually sat at the computer, tears in his eyes, just pressing random answers so he could be finished.

Of the educators who responded to the survey, 95 percent reported that preparation for and administration of the Smarter Balanced Assessment significantly disrupted the student learning process.

“Due to the test my students lost a week and a half of instruction time in U.S. history,” one person wrote. “We lost a whole unit on World War II. I think this is an unacceptable loss for students.”

Other survey participants raised concerns about the impact on children with special needs, with 74 percent responding that the SBA did not meet the needs of students who require student-specific accommodations.

One person said, “This was heartbreaking, watching students who are supposed to have accommodation flounder and fail because of this test.”

Lack of adequate resources was a big issue for many of the educators who participated, with one explaining that the district didn’t have what it needed to buy new curriculum for the students to learn the content to help them meet the standards, or computers to run the long tests for each grade level, the release said.

“We had to begin testing before the material was taught,” they wrote. “This sets up students to fail before the beginning.”

To address these concerns, OEA has been working closely with the Governor’s office, the Chief Education Office and the Oregon Department of Education to build a system of assessment that works for everyone — one OEA leadership says will identify inequities, help close gaps and set students up for success.

So far, a team of educators and policy leaders have met, made recommendations, sought feedback and laid out a comprehensive vision for how to move forward.

“We appreciate the honest feedback that came from this survey, and hope that educators, policy makers and community leaders will use the information to improve teaching and learning in Oregon schools,” Vaandering said. “Our students deserve nothing less.”, (503) 399-6745, or follow on Twitter @Nataliempate

Published by Natalie Pate

Natalie Pate is a freelance journalist and author based in Salem, Oregon. She wrote about education for more than seven years at the Statesman Journal and now covers education and other topics throughout the Pacific Northwest. She is originally from Colorado and earned her B.A. in Politics and French from Willamette University.

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