- Associated Press - Friday, August 28, 2015

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - The first round of results from Connecticut’s new standardized exams show more students than expected are excelling at English language arts, but math skills remain a challenge, according to scores released Friday.

The math scores matched state estimates, but Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell said there is “significant room for improvement” and announced a new council to assist teachers that will be made up of educators, industry and business leaders and experts in math, science and technology.

“Math really stands out as an area that demands further inquiry and demands further emphasis,” she said.

This year, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Curriculum, or SBAC tests, replaced the Connecticut Mastery Test and Connecticut Academic Performance Test for students in grades 3 through 8 and 11. About 267,000 students took the test this spring, which is computerized and based on the so-called Common Core education standards. School districts and parents have been eagerly awaiting the final scores.

Statewide results show more than 55 percent of students are meeting or exceeding the achievement level for English and about 39 percent for math. Prior to releasing the numbers, officials repeatedly warned that these scores would look lower than previous test scores and people should not make direct comparisons.

“They’re really different assessments that have a different degree of rigor and measure different things, so it’s not a useful comparison,” Wentzell said.

The state’s largest teacher’s union, the Connecticut Education Association, repeated its criticism of the test on Friday, arguing the new results are not an accurate reflection of what students know and are able to accomplish. CEA President Sheila Cohen called the Smarter Balanced tests “a failed experiment” that’s particularly unfair to younger students, those from low-income families without regular computer access at home, and students who have special needs.

“SBAC is neither meaningful in making critical judgments about student, school and teacher performance, nor is it an accurate gauge by which decisions about individualized student instruction, programs, and funding should be determined,” Cohen said in a statement. “The test technology alone is an utter disaster.”

Unionized teachers were successful earlier this year in persuading the General Assembly to pass legislation to stop the administration of the 11th grade SBAC test. Federal education authorities recently approved an application previously submitted by the state to replace the test with the SAT, starting in the 2015-16 school year. Some parents and teachers have voiced concern about the large volume of student testing.

Wentzell said she has a lot of confidence in the Smarter Balanced assessment, adding how Connecticut was a lead developer of the test, which was also administered in 17 other states.

“There’s nothing more fair than honest information about achievement,” she said. “We can’t deliver on the most important aspect of equity and the civil right of a good public education if we don’t know where every kid in the state stands with regard to having had access (to quality education) and the ability to achieve.”

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