Sen. Steven Thayn: Idaho needs an alternative to flawed multistate test

GUEST OPINION: EDUCATION

January 18, 2014 

I can no longer support the SBAC test, and I call for the creation of an alternative to be used in the 2014-15 school year.

Several reasons justify this position. The SBAC stands for Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, an organization of more than 20 states that has used federal and private funds to create a multistate test.

1. SBAC is a form of extreme testing requiring up to eight hours (seven hours for third-graders). A different vehicle could be used to provide comparisons with other states.

2. The main purpose of the SBAC test is to give data to statisticians. SBAC seems to be a tool for policy makers to monitor, control and manipulate teachers, students and parents.

3. The Idaho State Department of Education is not able to guarantee that pornographic passages or agenda-driven questions will not be on the SBAC.

4. SBAC has no process to lodge a complaint or modify the test.

5. SBAC creates a multistate testing system. SBAC shifts decisions from the state level to a multistate level and will further alienate parents and make it harder for legislators, teachers and parents to impact public policy, threatening state control over a wide range of education issues.

6. The test process has two unacceptable and dangerous characteristics.

A. SBAC uses a technique called “close reading.” Close reading means that a passage is given as a prompt for writing. The student can only use the information in the prompt in the writing. No outside information can be used. This could be potentially harmful and discriminatory to young and vulnerable students, especially those students who do not agree with the assumptions of the prompt.

B. Anecdotal stories indicate that in doing a math problem, a student may get more credit for working the problem using an approved process but getting the wrong answer, while a student who uses a nonapproved process to get the correct answer could receive a lower grade. This would discriminate against any student who was not taught in an “approved system,” such as home- schooled children or children taught in private schools.

7. Cost of the test has not been determined.

8. Finally, data is a big concern. I do not think the state of Idaho should store individual student data. The state should only receive aggregate data from school districts. The data should be kept at the district level and the state should perform audits to assure accurate record keeping.

Alternatives should be developed to replace the SBAC exam for the 2014-15 school year. They could include:

- Limit a longer test to only the fourth and eighth grades.

- Use the SAT in high school. This would give an indication of how Idaho students compare with other students nationwide.

- Consider what other states that have already withdrawn from SBAC are using.

- Bring back the ISAT but design it for the new standards and use it only in specific grades.

My biggest regret during my eight years in the Legislature is not getting public “buy-in” before the Students Come First bills were implemented. Not because most of the content was poor, lacking, or misguided; in fact, the Students Come First bills are still guiding the discussion and impacting policy.

The regret is because of the process. The bills were imposed on the people and the state without their permission. I see the supporters of Common Core and SBAC making the same mistake. This time I will listen. Legislators need to listen to citizen concerns and take actions to address these concerns. We can then move together with greater unity.

Steven Thayn, of Emmett, is in his first term as a state senator representing District 8.

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