This year will signal a changing of the assessment guard for students in Connecticut.
In 2010, Connecticut adopted the Common Core State Standards. In an effort to better align with those standards, the state is doing away with the Connecticut Mastery Test and Connecticut Academic Performance Test in favor of the new Smarter Balanced assessment.
“The intent is to develop assessments that are national assessments aligned to the Common Core [standards]. This will level the playing field with assessments across the nation,” Region 16 Director of Curriculum and Instruction Barbara Peck said.
The Smarter Balanced assessment won’t officially be rolled out statewide until 2015, but school districts were given the option to field test it this year. Naugatuck public schools and Region 16, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, will both participate in the field test.
“We decided to make that choice because we are aligned to the Common Core standards. We wanted to provide students with an early opportunity to participate in that type of test,” Naugatuck Assistant Superintendent of Schools Christopher Montini said.
Peck echoed Montini’s statement, saying the district is aligning itself with the Common Core standards.
“That’s what we teach and that’s what we want to be assessing,” Peck said.
The results of this year’s field test will not count against or in favor of a district or school.
“The field test is really a test of the test,” Peck said.
Montini said since this is a brand new test, the districts will not have any base data to compare the scores against. Districts will have to wait a few more years until they have a good base to compare the scores against, he said.
However, Montini said, individual districts will still evaluate their scores.
“Will we use the results and talk about how it stacks up though? Of course,” Montini said.
There will be a large window for testing, beginning in March and running until June. Students will take the test on computers in contrast to the hand-written CMT and CAPT.
Montini said the test will be spread out over a week for each student. However, due to the number of computers compared to the number of students, it could take up to four weeks for the larger schools in the district to complete the test, Montini said.
“This is a trial run for us. We haven’t created a schedule for the test yet,” Montini said.
Peck said that the Smarter Balanced tests will have subtle changes compared to the CMT and CAPT. For example, students taking the CMT were asked to write to a prompt. On the new test students might be given two pieces of information to read, such as a word document or a link to an article or website, and are then asked questions relative to what they’ve read and have to cite specifics in an exercise that’s similar to writing a research paper.
Montini said one of the biggest changes is the Smarter Balanced assessment will be adaptive to each student. This means as a student answers more questions correctly, the test will begin asking more difficult questions. The field test will not be adaptive, though.
Montini said since the test will be able to change depending on who is taking it, it will not be a test that educators can teach to.
“You can’t break it down into individual strands,” Montini said. “It is really built on critical thinking, synthesis and analysis.”
Montini said the way districts can prepare the students for the Smarter Balanced tests is to make sure young students are acclimated to using computers and the schools are teaching the Common Core standards.
Students in grades three through eight will take the Smarter Balanced assessment, like the CMT. However, the new test will be given to high school juniors instead of sophomores like the CAPT.
Montini said since the tests are supposed to assess whether a high school student is ready for college or a career ready, it’s wiser to administer it when a student is closer to graduating.
Since this is a field test, districts were given the option to open the test to more high school students. Peck said Region 16 will administer the test to sophomores and juniors this year.
Peck said the district chose to give the test to sophomores to prepare them for next year.
While the Smarter Balanced tests cover reading, writing and math, school districts will still have to rely on the CAPT and CMT to provide science testing this year.
“Federal legislation states that we have to test science as well,” Montini said. “In regards to Smarter Balanced, I’m not sure about their plans to test science. The state is saying plan on doing both [Smarter Balanced and CAPT and CMT] for next few years.”
Students in grades five, eight and 10 will be tested in science.
Montini said the switch to the Common Core and the Smarter Balanced assessment will ultimately lead to students who are better prepared to graduate and enter the world beyond high school.
“The hope is a common set of standards built on rigors will increase the set of students ready for college,” Montini said. “We will produce graduates that are prepared for post-secondary education or career choices.”
Elio Gugliotti contributed to this article.