"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

SBAC Chief State Officers Public Meeting Reveals Some Cracks In The Dam?

St. Louis - Yesterday the State Education Chiefs of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortia (SBAC) held a public meeting to approve the next steps in the development process of the Common Assessments. Both MEW co-editors attended this meeting.  The following items were on the agenda.
  1. Approving the process to be used for the development of Achievement Level Descriptors (ADLs  identify what students are expected to know and be able to do, at each grade level, to be considered proficient.)
  2. Approval of a plan to provide sustainability for CCSS post 2014
  3. Approval of the Sampling Plan for the Assessment Pilot Program
  4. Endorsement of the Career Readiness Partnership Council Statement
There was fairly minimal open discussion as most of the work on these issues was done before the public meeting. The motions were even pre-written by the executive staff of SBAC so the officers had merely to move to accept and then pass the motion as presented. All motions passed unanimously with only two states abstaining from the vote on #4.

Highlights from the meeting:

1. The ADLs for 11th graders will determine whether they require remedial coursework in college. Sixty people will be working to develop this language for all grades. They will include 30 representatives from K-12, 20 from higher ed and 3 experts each from ELA and math standards. Their draft language will be available for public review from Nov-Jan 2012-13. The language will be finalized and approved at a March 2013 meeting in DC, and will be applied to student performance beginning summer 2014.

2.  Twenty million students are expected to take the SBAC assessments on-line. There needs to be technical and professional support for this system going forward. Both SBAC and PARCC were funded with seed money from TARP. This money will run out September 30, 2014. Any remaining unused funds will revert to the US Treasury. Both consortia must now figure out how to make the assessments sustainable by finding other funding sources.

The first RFP for a consultant to take on this work received zero bids because SBAC had grossly underestimated the effort needed to do the work. They are now looking to identify areas of commonality with the other assessment consortia, PARCC, and see if the two groups can share a consultant on those common points. It is not a stretch to see that these two groups are probably going to have to combine in the future in order to remain sustainable. Then we will truly have national standards.

The plan is to go to private foundations to fund Phase 2.

3.  Pilot test program of the assessments will begin February 2013. It seems like the SBAC itself will be soliciting 22% of the students from each state to participate in the pilot. It is hard to imagine a teacher willing to take away class time to have her students take a computerized test on material she may not have covered, that will not count towards their grades or her performance review unless there is some sort of reward offered. MEW is going to be asking how those students will be identified and incentivized to participate.

There was much emphasis placed on having a good demographic sample in the 22%.

4.  The Career Readiness Partner Council is looking to expand Common Core into the technical schools. You can read more about the CRPC here. The SBAC Executive Director was purposely covert about this agenda item. The states passed the motion for the consortia to approve the CRPC statement (not given out at the meeting).  Interestingly, the two states that abstained on this vote were NH (who was participating by conference call) and IA, whose Senator Tom Harkin is Chairman of HELP (Health Education Labor & Pensions) committee who wrote language for the ESEA calling on states to adopt college and career ready academic content standards that are aligned with relevant state career and technical education standards and appropriate career skills.

The public was not allowed to ask questions during this meeting and the audience's presence did seem to have a stifling effect on the officers' dialogue.

There will be a CCSSO Legislative Policy meeting  March 17-19, 2013 in DC. MEW is also asking who from Missouri would be attending this meeting.  There will be another public session of the State Education Chiefs at this meeting.

Our observation from this meeting is that there is significant concern among the 26 states about the future of the consortia, both for its structure and funding. They have several open positions, like a business manager, that they have not been able to fill. The structure thus far has focused on development of the assessments themselves which is, for the most part, a massive one-time effort. If all goes well, future tweaking of the assessments will be minimal, but that is a big IF. They do not appear to have a clear vision of what the support structure will look like.

What is clear is that it will be very expensive to fund the support needed to run these assessments, but it is unclear where that money is going to come from. The fall back of course is to pass that cost on to the districts to purchase the assessments. That is a very unpalatable option.

It is hoped that the pilot tests will go smoothly, but even there the path is bumpy. North Carolina has statutory language stating that notice of any standardized testing to be conducted during the school year must made by the beginning of the year. Since the pilot tests will be done in February of this school year, NC may have trouble coming up with the 22% sample because participation would absolutely have to be voluntary. Because of its size, Vermont's 22% will be a very small number compared to California's (CA accounts for 36% of the total SBAC student population, VT <1%). Would any problems VT experiences during the pilot be given less weight because of the relatively small sample size?

The biggest problem the consortia seem to be having is one of time. Of the eight RFP's or RFI's put out by SBAC this year, six appear to have received no bids. Could the incredibly tight deadlines given on each be part of the problem? SBAC is down to the wire on implementation and time is something they don't have a lot of anymore.

This is the problem with top down planning. Someone puts a stake in the ground and says, "We will have Common Core Assessments by 2014," and everyone involved in implementation must work backwards from there. When the boss says he needs the product ready in two weeks, by the last four days everyone involved is looking to cut whatever corners they need to in order to meet the deadline. This does not tend to lead to a quality product. Totally new standards, even if they are of good quality, delivered through a slapped together at the last minute delivery system with shaky support are not going to give us great students.  But hey, there's always waivers. Right?

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