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Some Vt. districts push back on federally-mandated SBAC tests

Published: Mar. 16, 2021 at 5:07 PM EDT
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont schools are not getting out of standardized testing this year. Students were exempt from taking them last year due to the pandemic, and the state would like to opt-out again, but federal officials are refusing.

Many Vermont educators say the annual Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests take valuable classroom learning time away from students. “I’m grasping at straws as to what it would be useful for, because it really is not a priority for us right now,” said Montpelier Roxbury Public Schools Superintendent Libby Bonesteel. She says the SBACS are taking time away from in-person learning opportunities at a time when the majority of Vermont schools are not offering in-person learning full-time.

Rivendell School District Superintendent Barrett Williams agrees, saying the tests take about 20 hours to administer. “We are begrudgingly getting ready for it,” he said. “With as much in-person instruction time that we have lost already, it doesn’t make much sense from our perspective to put a lot of time into this when we already know there is learning loss.”

Districts are required to administer the SBACs annually to measure proficiency in key subject areas. Both Bonesteel and Williams say they can give district testing to each grade level for more accurate data and that the results would also available in time to figure into state-ordered recovery plans. A further challenge with the SBACs is getting enough students into classrooms to take them. Without a critical mass, some say the data will be skewed. “Eighteen percent of our virtual families saying, we aren’t going to come in to take that. So, we will have a lot of zeros in our columns of kids just not taking it,” Bonesteel said.

Abby Brodowski, a teacher at Rutland High School, says that while the SBAC data is useful, the turnaround time is a problem. “I’m interested in the data. I’m curious as anybody would be about how we did, but it’s not going to come in quick enough for us to make changes, perhaps even for September around what the data days,” she said. Brodowski says at some point, standardized testing prep will be integrated back into their lesson plans.

Cassie Mullin, a mother of two remote learners at Rutland Intermediate School, says she will send her kids in to take the tests. “It’s very important, because I think with COVID we really need to use all resources possible to figure out where these children are at,” she said. “It is only one week and so you really want to know where these kids are, in order to plan for the future.”

But Bonesteel says when accuracy is in question, she questions why they are required. “We’ll do the best we can with it, we’re not going to force anybody, nor are we going to lose any sleep over this one,” she said.

The U.S. Education Department says it will let states delay the tests or hold them online to provide flexibility during the pandemic.

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