Most Stonington high students opted out of new assessment exam

Stonington — More than 7 out of 10 Stonington High School juniors this past May opted out of taking the new Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests, which were being used for the first time to officially measure student achievement.

The participation rate of 25.8 percent on the language arts section and 22.1 percent on the math portion gave the school one of the lowest participation rates in the state alongside high schools in Westbrook, Madison, Westport and Ridgefield.

The state education department released its first year of SBAC testing data on Friday.

The federal government has warned schools and states that if their participation on such tests is less than 95 percent, they could lose funding. So far that has not happened.

Principal Mark Friese said Tuesday he was not surprised by the participation rate, as a number of parents had indicated that they would be opting their child out of the test because of concern that the test — which took place three hours a day for five days — was being given at a time when students already were preparing for SATs, final exams and Advanced Placement exams.

“They felt it was test after test after test” at a time when they were trying to post good results in preparation for applying to college, he said.

“They had valid concerns. I can’t fault anyone for caring about their kid,” he said.

Friese said the participation rate was also low the previous year when the exam was tested to see how well it worked.

“I was also not surprised because our parents are very well informed and very involved in their children’s education,” he said.

Students who did not take the test had study halls.

Although participation at the town’s middle and elementary schools was between 91 and 98 percent, the low rate at the high school dropped the town’s overall participation to 84 percent.

Friese said the school sent letters to parents explaining the test and he fielded calls and emails about it.

Friese said he feels that the new version of the SAT, which will debut this year, is the “right path” to go with testing.

Friese said schools already have been informed by the state that the new SAT will replace the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests this school year.

He said it is unclear if the SBAC will return in the future.

Friese called the SAT a “tried, true and validated” measure of student achievement that tests for many of the same things as the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

In addition, he said most students already plan to take the SAT, so it will not involve additional testing for them.

“Families are more comfortable with the SAT than they are with these new tests,” he said.

Friese also pointed out that there is a national dialogue now about the value of standardized testing. The Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, has called the SBAC tests invalid, unfair and a failed experiment.

Results of the more rigorous SBAC show that just 39 percent of public school students met or exceeded the proficiency level in math and 55 percent in language arts.

That compares to the 81 to 84 percent of students who met proficiency levels with the old Connecticut Mastery Tests and Connecticut Academic Performance Test.

In Stonington, 66 percent of students met or exceeded proficiency levels in language arts and 56 percent in math.

j.wojtas@theday.com

Twitter: @joewojtas

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