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No, Leaving The Smarter Balanced Testing Consortium Would Not Save Connecticut Money

I hate to break it to everyone, but John Bestor is wrong. Leaving the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) isn’t likely to save Connecticut money — far from it.

In his recent Op-Ed for CT Viewpoints Bestor, a former school psychologist and anti-reform activist, makes the extraordinary claim that Connecticut could save money by designing a new statewide annual assessment.

He’s not the first person to spout this myth. It’s been circulating around for awhile. Probably because it sounds great and is sure to gain traction.

Connecticut is in the midst of a budget crisis. Right now, appealing to the state’s pocketbook is effective politics, but in this case, it’s also total nonsense.

Creating a whole new test isn’t going to be any cheaper. Try as they might, the state legislature can’t just wave a magic wand and instantly develop a reliable, quality assessment to replace the SBAC. That’s not how that works, or at least, it’s certainly not how it’s worked for other states that have already left the two Common Core-aligned testing consortia.

Take Indiana for example. In 2009, the state joined the PARCC, one of the two testing consortia aligned with the Common Core. In a mad dash to pacify irate activists, Indiana nixed the PARCC in 2013. In their haste, they paid the testing company CTB-McGraw-Hill, the same company that designed Indiana’s pre-Common Core assessment, $24 million to revise the ISTEP.

Let’s just say, it didn’t work out so well for them — after only a year, that too was scrapped due to problems with implementation. Now Indiana is going back to the drawing board, this time around they are paying Pearson Education $32 million for yet another new test.

According to a report released this year by High Achievement New York, a coalition of New York business groups, replacing the Common Core State Standards and leaving the PARCC cost Indiana a total of $170 million — a far cry from the approximately $33 million Bestor claims the state of Connecticut will spend to administer the SBAC and SAT over the next three to four years.

As Chalkbeat writer Shaina Cavazos put it, “the process of leaving consortia that was meant to pacify local protests against Common Core-aligned tests has actually led to chaos and confusion in the classroom.”

“Although leaving consortia allowed some states to circumvent political backlash, it didn’t prevent them from realizing consequences to state coffers,” wrote Cavazos, who reported that most states that left saw increased costs.

Another such state was Tennesse, which balked to anti-testing pressure and left the PARCC in 2014. The replacement assessment they designed was so glitch-ridden, according to another Chalkbeat writer, Grace Tatter, that testing was cancelled altogether that year. After that blunder, the state contracted Measurement, Inc. to design a new assessment to the tune of $108 million dollars.

Like Tennessee and Indiana, Michigan, a state that left the SBAC, is on test number three — though they are thinking of ditching the newest as well. The current testing contract cost the state $103.7 million.

Even though Bestor might argue that the state could theoretically develop a new test in-house, through the State Mastery Examination Taskforce, there is no proof or guarantee that assessment will be without it’s own problems. Nor is it likely that the state would take that route. Even the teacher’s union suggested that a testing vendor might be used to develop a new exam.

Back in February, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN), a pro-education reform advocacy group, estimated getting rid of the SBAC would mean the state would be ditching a $20 million investment. Essentially the state would be throwing away time and money on a test that was only fully implemented as of last year.

More importantly, if the state listened to Bestor, students and families would have to wait years before they have baseline scores.

In all three states, Indiana, Tennessee and Michigan, legislators through accountability out the door and did what was politically expedient, rather than what’s best for students.

Those same students will now have to go through a revolving door of tests, possibly languishing in low-performing schools with no way to reasonably measure how well those schools are serving children — is that really what we want for Connecticut children too?

To me, that’s far too steep a cost.

What do you think?

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