Change in standardized tests may reveal weakness of current standards

    Image Copyright Straight 8 Photography, 2013. Used under license from Shutterstock.com

    Image Copyright Straight 8 Photography, 2013.
    Used under license from Shutterstock.com

    The Connecticut State Board of Education will decide Monday whether to apply for a waiver allowing local school districts to decide between two standardized tests to give next year, instead of forcing kids to slog through both.

    The testing overlap comes as Connecticut shifts from old tests – the CMT and CAPT – and the standards that go with them to the Common Core and tests based on that new curriculum. The Common Core has been adopted by 45 states with encouragement from the federal government.

    If the waiver is successful, districts will have a choice next school year to offer the old tests or start using the new ones. Gov. Dannel Malloy announced his support for the waiver last week.

    A recent study by Harvard Prof. Paul Peterson and a student co-author, Peter Kaplan, ranked Connecticut’s existing standards 29th and gave them a C- for “truth in advertising.”

    According to the study, many states give students tests that show they are proficient when standard tests given nationwide would have less favorable results.

    “Note that an A or a B does not indicate a relatively high performance by students in the state,” Peterson and Kaplan wrote. “Rather, it indicates that the state’s definition of proficient embodies higher expectations for students.”

    For 2011, Connecticut’s standard for fourth-grade reading held up the best (B-), while eighth-grade math did the worst (D-).

    This means a student who tests as proficient in fourth-grade reading on Connecticut’s tests is likely to be proficient on a high-standard national test, too. Three out of every four fourth-graders scored as proficient in reading on Connecticut’s test, according to the State Department of Education.

    On the other hand, ranking proficient in eighth-grade math is less likely to be repeated on a national test. Most eighth-graders – 86 percent – in 2011 tested as proficient in math.

    The study authors single out “the Tennessee miracle” for the state’s rapid improvement of standards. “Having been graded an F in every previous report, it made the astounding jump to a straight A in 2011,” they wrote. “As a result, state tests were made much more challenging and the percentage of students identified as proficient dropped from 90 percent or more to around 50 percent, a candid admission of the challenges the Tennessee schools faced.”