Concerns raised over new test

Two members of the Board of Education expressed their concerns last week about the protection of student identity when taking the upcoming computer-based state standardized test this spring.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is responsible for administering the pilot math and English tests between March 31 and June 6 for students in third through eighth grade and high school juniors, yet “a lot of unknowns” persist, according to assistant superintendent Kimberly Beck.

“The state hasn’t confirmed what’s going to happen with the test results,” said board member Michael Raduazzo, who asked for the item to be on the agenda. “Do we know if they are keeping individual scores in a database somewhere? It’s a legitimate concern. …

“Can students take the test without any tie back to the individual student?”

Board member Chris Murray echoed that sentiment during the discussion, citing potential issues with children’s rights and leaving “digital trails” where identities can be accessed by outside sources.

“Who owns this data? It’s a very important question to me,” he said. “Who ends up with it, if not the state? What do they do with it?”

Administrators claimed to be “in the dark” on a lot of the concerns raised.

Superintendent Deborah Low, citing SBAC’s website, noted that students would not receive individual scores because this year’s test is a “test of the test.”

“It won’t impact course placement decisions,” she said. “We will only get district test results, maybe individual school results — we’re not sure at this point.”

Ms. Beck, also citing SBAC material, said that the 2014 tests had nothing to do with mastery of the subject matter.

Instead, the test will be looking to ensure the assessments are valid, reliable and fair for all students.

Mr. Raduazzo and Mr. Murray weren’t satisfied.

“I’m not trying to be emotional or ask anything unreasonable,” Mr. Raduazzo said. “There’s a significance to a mass opt-out and we need to consider that possibility.”

He’s afraid many parents would choose to opt out of this year’s test, something they have the ability to do.

“I don’t think it should be beyond our scope as educators to ask these questions,” Mr. Raduazzo said. “Knowing what happens to the individual test results could have a relevance in the student’s life; who are we to know what will happen in the future?”

He said that “people are going to be uncomfortable hearing this” and could opt out of taking the test this spring.

“If I feel that I don’t know enough about this test, I can opt out of having my son Anthony take it,” he said. “A lot of parents are going to feel they don’t know enough.”

Mr. Murray added that he wanted the board to “recognize the risk” in having students take a test where their personal information could be accessible by a secondary company — not the state’s department of education.

“The government isn’t the ones administering the test — SBAC is. Therefore, the state can’t be held accountable for a student’s personal information,” he said. “In a digital world like ours, mistakes get made, and I want us to acknowledge the insecurity of the situation we’re about to enter. …

“We’re going into a void that we don’t know enough about,” he added. “We don’t know how it will affect us; we don’t know — that’s my point.”

Ms. Beck said that the “data upload would be the same as the CMT” and that both models were standardized and approved by the state.

Board members Scott Mason and Mike Taylor agreed that Mr. Raduazzo and Mr. Murray had made good points about student identity and the possibility of parents choosing to opt out of the trial run this spring.

There was an apparent split of opinion on the board, and chairman Austin Drukker wasn’t present at the meeting.

Supporting a districtwide opt-out of the pilot test was never moved for a vote.

“The alternative is we’re looking in the rearview mirror with the CMT and CAPT — that doesn’t make any sense for us,” Ms. Low said. “This is messy because it’s not set in stone, but we will get through this.”

Ms. Beck added that everyone — students, faculty, administrators, and board members — will learn from the process.

Mr. Murray said the board was looking at the situation “in a very small way.”

Board member John Palermo agreed with Ms. Low that the district had made its decision to look ahead with the trial run of the test.

“Unless we’re going to go against it at the last second, there’s not much the board can do with this discussion,” he said.

“We’re using the fact that we can’t do anything as a defense,” Mr. Murray said.

Vice chairman Irene Burgess closed what she referred to as a “circular argument” after a more than 30-minute debate.

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