State tests must produce reliable data

February 18, 2014

Education officials are gearing up for a new test for Delaware students.

Known as Smarter Balanced, the new test replaces Delaware Compre­hensive Assessment System, which replaced Delaware Student Testing Program.

Smarter Balanced aligns with the Common Core standards, a sometimes controversial effort to replace varied standards in each state with a unified set of rigorous goals developed by educators across the country, including Dela­ware. The First State and 44 other states plus the District of Columbia have approved it.

In promoting the old DCAS, Delaware of­ficials emphasized it would be administered at least twice a year, measuring a student’s progress over a single academic year. Taken together, classroom-based scores could then be used as part of assessing teacher effective­ness, and classrooms taken together could be used to assess administrator effectiveness.

That seemed like a major step forward until officials announced that only 60 percent of 10th-grade students who received the highest DCAS rating, a 4, scored high enough on the nationally standardized SAT to be considered college ready. Tenth-graders who received a 3 on the test met the standards, but their SAT scores the following year showed they were not college ready. In short, DCAS did not produce reliable results. That alone testifies to the need for a test that lines up with what stu­dents need to know if they want to enter the workforce or seek postsecondary education.

The new test aims to do that, but Smarter Bal­anced is already drawing backlash; students in New York took it last year even though some teachers apparently had not received Com­mon Core-based textbooks.

That’s not likely to happen in Delaware. Ed­ucators are selectively administering the test this year, with statewide implementation set for next year. The first year’s results won’t be used to evaluate teachers, and it remains un­clear how to evaluate teachers if students take the test only once a year. Is this test any better than its many predecessors? That remains to be seen. But educators must realize taxpay­ers now evaluate schools and districts based on testing data, and they expect educators to use the same data to constantly improve the education students receive.

  • Cape Gazette editorials are considered and written by members of the Cape Gazette editorial board which includes Dennis Forney, publisher; Trish Vernon, editor; Dave Frederick, sports editor emeritus; Laura Ritter, news editor; Jen Ellingsworth, associate editor; and Nick Roth, sports editor.

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