Assessments and school accountability have been buzz words in education for nearly two decades, since No Child Left Behind brought in high stakes assessments that measure whether schools meet annual yearly objectives. Recently, these assessments have evolved and starting this year, Vermont will use the SBAC to assess our students.
SBAC, Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium, replaces the NECAP assessment and is given in grades 4-8 and 10, covering English Language Arts and Math. SBAC is different from NECAP in that it is given on the computer and is more interactive in nature. The program will adjust to the student’s independent learning level within two grade levels, leading to a more efficient test and hopefully less frustration on the student who needs more or less time than the average test taker.
A nice feature of the SBAC is that students may be assessed for shorter periods of the day over a long period of time, allowing for less disruption in the learning environment. Each school has scheduled its assessment period in the next several weeks. Parents might want to check with the schools their children are in to know when that school assessment window will be.
Half of the country is using the SBAC, as opposed to only the Northeast using the NECAP (New England Common Assessment Program). Over time, the larger grouping will allow for better comparisons of data. The other half of the country is using another assessment, which goes by the acronym PARC.
As this is the first year of the SBAC, there is much trial and error in administering it. Until we all take it, we are not completely sure we have the bandwidth to meet our needs, for example. Students may be asked to perform technological skills they may not yet have been exposed to. Thus, this first year is a trial year, with the likely result across the state of not very good results on content, as we are likely evaluating computer skills and access instead. Also, the SBAC results cannot be compared to the NECAP results as they assess different things.
We are fortunate in Vermont that our Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe and our State Board of Education (SBE) understand that this needs to be a pilot year. In mid-March, the SBE issued a statement that SBAC results will not be used this first year in school identification under No Child Left Behind. This allows us to focus on learning about the test and identifying our needs, while giving students an opportunity to also try it out. We appreciate this consideration.
Assessments such as the SBAC are useful tools to let us know if the initiatives we have in place are meeting the needs of our students. This particular assessment will be able to give us this feedback much earlier, in the summer after a spring assessment for example, rather than a year later. SBAC will also be able to tell us more information on individual student growth.
That said, large group assessments such as SBAC are also not intended to be “high stakes” assessments and should not be looked at in isolation or become the focus of instruction. In Rutland Northeast, we are committed to developing character, competence, creativity and community in our students, with a breadth of educational opportunities that give our students skills and develop their talent. The assessment is only one measure of support in this process.