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A Letter to Our Communities:

Every school in Connecticut receives the reports from the state for Smarter Balanced Consortium Assessments (SBAC tests) at the beginning of the year. Unfortunately, for most schools in the state, the news was not good. In fact, Mrs. Lisa Carter, our Assistant Superintendent, ran the numbers to determine which school districts had at least 80% of their students achieve proficiency (a score of 3 or 4) in both areas of English/Language Arts and Mathematics.* The unfortunate news was that, out of 210 reported school districts, only 18 achieved this status. In speaking with the Connecticut Department of Education about this, she learned that these kinds of results are occurring nationwide.

While this stagnant or downward trend may be nationwide, we cannot consider this to be acceptable for our students.

SBAC tests were originally designed to be given as an assessment program aligned with state standards and one that can be embedded with regular instructional programming in any school. As such, it provides benchmark check-in questions for math and English/language arts that teachers can use to monitor the effectiveness of classroom instruction throughout the year. When schools adopt this intended approach, the assessment becomes a much more accurate picture of what students know and can do.

When schools first began administering the Smarter Balanced assessments, most Connecticut schools chose to give only the spring assessment, which is the longer version of the test. However, a benchmark assessment means that student learning is reviewed intermittently or a few times throughout the school year, usually three to four times or every 8 to 10 weeks. These shorter assessments are also untimed and allow students to become more familiar with the types of questions in the longer spring assessment. (It is the spring test that the Connecticut Department of Education reports to the public.) These shorter tests, called “interim assessments”, are scored; however, only the students, parents, and individual schools are given the results.

What is beneficial about a “benchmark” check-in assessment? Benchmark data allow us to see each student’s individual growth over the course of a year. If growth is occurring at the levels we expect to see, we know that progress is taking place at the rate necessary for students to successfully master grade level learning expectations. If growth is not occurring, then intervention teaching must take place to ensures that students are able to master the content and skills they still need to learn.

We currently give other intermittent assessments that we use to gauge growth. At the elementary schools, we have assessments in spelling, math, and various types of writing. We also use the STAR Renaissance computerized math and reading assessments that provide brief snapshots of individual student progress. We will be holding discussions with administrators and teachers to determine if we need to replace some of our current assessments with the Smarter Balanced interim assessments to see if this will provide more quality feedback to the students and teachers regarding gains.

We can continuously improve student learning.  The grading systems that have been enacted in all of the schools no longer accept that a student keep a “D” or “F” grade on major classroom assessments. Whether a project or a test, if a student does not achieve “proficiency”, which is at least a grade of A, B, or C, then the teacher will work with the student to see that the student continues to practice and learn the skills, so that he or she is able to retake the assessment until proficiency is reached.

In the past, it was more accepted for schools to give a student the grade they “earned” and then move on to the next teaching concept. However, we know that concepts and skills build on one another and students who do not show mastery before they progress to the next level often fall behind in their learning.

Students learn at different rates, so we must adjust our teaching instruction to accommodate every student’s learning pace and style. In our schools, with lower class sizes, this is very doable. We have now, through changed classroom schedules, built in time during the school day for students to receive extra help or be able to have time to work on projects or prepare for assessments. Teachers are available and prepared to help students during this time.

Finally, while teachers and administrators are making adjustments to the learning process, so are the students. Last year, all schools implemented student led conferences in many grade levels. This school year, all grade levels will be doing these conferences. For younger students, these are “student involved” conferences. For other elementary and secondary students, students are both involved and helping to lead their conference, by reporting to their parents the growth they are making on individual learning goals. Students will be charting their growth on a number of areas, such as their reading levels, mathematics, writing skills, etc. They will also be charting their growth from one year to another on the Smarter Balanced assessment. When students have a visual to see their goals and their progress, it is motivating. These visual charts of progress are ones they can share with parents at conferences and throughout the year.

Does the state end of year test matter? While it certainly is not the only assessment that counts, as long as every district and state uses one major assessment as a report to its communities, it is one that requires our attention. And we are committed to ensuring that we can demonstrate to our students, parents, and communities that our schools are achieving and doing the very best we can for each and every student.

Dr. Pam Vogel

Superintendent, Region One Schools

 (* The figure of 80% was used in the SBAC Connecticut district analysis, as it is the percentage used in the SRBI process used in Connecticut schools. SRBI states that: “Core curriculums, classroom instruction and the learning environment should be successful for at least 80 percent of all students. If more than 20 percent of students are failing to achieve important outcomes and standards for a grade, the quality and fidelity of curriculums, classroom instruction and/or learning environment must be closely examined and improved.”)