Changing Standards Affect School Test Scores

The Hartford Courant

If there is a thread to be drawn from the statewide test results released this week by the state Department of Education, it's that resources and attention do help low-performing schools achieve higher test scores.

The results show a slight drop in Connecticut Mastery Tests given to students in grades 3 through 8, but small gains on the Connecticut Academic Performance Test, which is given to 10th-graders.

The results must be taken with a grain of salt because the state's public schools are near the end of a major transition from an older set of academic benchmarks to the new Common Core standards. The Common Core has fewer but more in-depth expectations of what children should learn in each grade, knowledge that provides the scaffold for learning in the next grade.

The issue is that the legacy tests, the CMT and CAPT, are not designed to measure student learning that is geared to the Common Core standards. So schools that have moved to Common Core teaching may have a mismatch when they offer the legacy tests — in effect they are teaching to the wrong test — which may explain why scores are down.

To correct this imbalance, state officials are allowing districts to begin using tests aligned with the Common Core next year, a year earlier than the original target date.

Also, as a matter of fairness, officials propose "decoupling" tests scores from teacher evaluations next year, and bringing that reform in the following year when teaching and tests are on the same page. Counting test scores as part of teacher evaluations was part of the education reform package passed by the General Assembly in 2012.

The silver lining in this year's results is that many of low-performing schools targeted for help appear to have responded. All four of the Commissioner's Network schools — schools in which the state directly intervened — had improvements in a majority of testing indicators. The Alliance District schools from the state's 30 lowest-performing districts all showed some improvement; a quarter of the schools showed significant improvement.

Test results tend to be a lagging indicator of educational progress; it may be a few years before they tell us how we're doing. But nothing in the 2013 results sends up a red flag about the reform effort.

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