Smarter, balanced?

Huh. All this time I thought Smarter Balanced was some kind of low-fat margarine stuff that sensible older people use to control their cholesterol. But it turns out that it’s a new way of testing students, instead of using the Connecticut Mastery Test and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test. If nothing else, this demonstrates that the educrats who dream these things up have switched from dry academic jargon to advertising lingo. (“It’s smarter! It’s balanced! Wow!”)

Anyway, area school systems are moving ahead with the Smarter Balanced Assessment and are hoping the U.S. Department of Education will deign to grant them permission to do so, because Smarter Balanced aligns better with the Common Core standards that have been adopted by most states, including Connecticut. (A map on the Common Core State Standards Initiative website shows that every state has either “adopted” or “not yet adopted” the standards – no other possibility is mentioned. Translation: “Everybody’s doing it! Wow!”)

The local school boards also have to tell the state Department of Education whether they’re going to use Smarter Balanced, because there are new teacher evaluation procedures coming in. The state wants to know whether a town is using CMT (for grades 3 through 8) and CAPT (for grade 10), or Smarter Balanced, because 22.5 percent of a teacher’s evaluation must be based on students’ standardized test results. But there’s no science portion of SBA, so administrators will have to administer the science portions of the old tests anyway. Is that clear?

One area school superintendent declared that switching to Smarter Balanced is “a no-brainer” – not something one is necessarily glad to hear from an educator. Another observed that switching makes sense because “we want to get ahead of the game” – and “game” sounds like exactly the right word here: What with Common Core and Smarter Balanced coming down the pike, along with the new teacher evaluation scheme; to be followed by whatever trend pops up next year, and the year after that (I’m being careful here to say “trend” rather than “fad” or “gimmick”); and with all the state and federal hoops they have to jump through every time they turn around, today’s school superintendents and principals and even teachers certainly have very different jobs from those of their colleagues from long ago.

I was just looking at the dedication program for James Gates Percival School in Kensington, which opened in 1956 and was attended by Yrs Trly. Ancient history? You bet: The total cost of the school was $356,751.00 and the faculty consisted of eight teachers – including the principal, who was the “principal teacher” in the old sense, in that he also taught sixth grade. Gone are the days when one person could juggle all the tasks of being a principal – even of a small elementary school, including all the required paperwork – and also teach.

How do other countries teach? Glad you asked.

I was also looking at a review of a book about how schools are run in several countries, including South Korea, Poland and Finland, all of which do well in international comparisons. Finland even does so without forcing the kids to endure a school year so long that it would be unacceptable on these shores. One thing the author found was that Finnish schools achieve their laudable results thorough the careful selection and rigorous training of teachers – even in a “dingy” school with just a chalkboard, no iPads or high-tech whiteboards or anything of the sort – and not through the kind of “dazzlingly complex performance evaluations” we keep inventing here. But we’ve got the system we’ve got, so it must be the system we want.

Reach Glenn Richter at grichter@record-journal.com.



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