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Education Update: Maine Moves Towards Eliminating Smarter Balanced Assessments

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On behalf of our children, Maine has made a major positive step forward by initiating the removal of the Smarter Balanced Assessments. Monday, May 18, 2015, the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee unanimously voted to eliminate the Smarter Balanced Assessments. It will be hopefully be codified in the legislature in the next few weeks. We have shaken off a $900,000 annual membership fee as well as $2.7 million price tag for implement these tests. Let’s keep a close eye on what is used to replace it.

These assessments and others like them are highly problematic on many levels.  Specifically, this year the students of Maine have been unwitting participants in educational research and experimentation. In all reality, this has been occurring for about 15 years, Smarter Balanced Assessments are just the new iteration on steroids.  They have little to do with determining a student’s academic knowledge.  Assessments and achievement tests are not the same. Assessments, these specifically, are created to gather information that is non academic; psychometric measures of learning.

Psychometrics is the field of study concerned with the theory and technique of psychological measurement, which includes the measurement of knowledge, abilities, attitudes, personality traits, and educational measurement. The field is primarily concerned with the construction and validation of measurement instruments such as questionnairestests, and personality assessments.

This form of data collection without parental consent violates strict rules of ethical conduct in other professions.  In the field of Psychology where these types of psychometric assessments are used, professional must follow these codes or risk losing their license.

As if the psychometric aspect is not troubling enough, this test is not even considered valid. The validity speaks to the ability of a test to measure what it claims to measure and not something else.  Is the goal to measure academic knowledge or is the goal to measure a child’s ability to take a standardized test? The latter is reality as demonstrated by the hours of class room time given to preparing students to take the test.  Even the pilot tests contain a vast number of questions that in no way pertain to academic knowledge.

Parents in large measure have no idea what is occurring with these assessments. Why would anyone subject their child to a test for the express purpose of learning to take a test? How does this translate to real life?   These tests are used to determine a school’s rating – it will not inform a teacher’s instruction, as an achievement test would do. The Smarter Balanced set the cut scores and by design, those cut scores have been set so that 62% of the children will score below proficient. It needs to be explained how failing more than half of the children will improve the education in this state?

Going forward we need to keep abreast to what the Department of Education plans to use as a replacement.  A tool that accurately measures a student’s achievement should be selected so teacher and parents can easily determine how to guide the instruction for each student.  At the same time the school administration receives the information they need to guide their overarching academic goals.  There are alternative achievement tests like the Stanford Achievement Test, California Achievement Test or the Iowa Basic Skills Test that are still used in large measure by Home Educators with great success.

It is the parents, not the bureaucrats who should be the ones directing the education in their local district through their elected school board members.  Under this testing and accountability scheme they have no control over the test and as parents begin to learn that the assessments are used to gather information on their children versus offer them the feedback on their true “proficiency” in the core subjects, parents are simply saying NO.

About Heidi Sampson

Heidi Sampson is a veteran Home Educator who is also the first Home Educator to be appointed to the State Board of Education. Although her children have graduated, she still is very active as a leader of a large Home Educator support group in southern Maine. Heidi is a frequent speaker around the state on various educational topics, of late the main topic is Common Core, as she is the co-founder of No Common Core Maine.

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