Late last Friday afternoon, Wilton Public Schools notified parents that they were delaying the start of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, or SBAC, field test. Originally scheduled to begin on Tuesday, March 18, the district is now unsure when testing will start.

Parents of students at Cider Mill, Middlebrook and Wilton High School received an emailed letter from assistant superintendent Dr. Charles “Chuck” Smith notifying them of the change. Shortly after that letter was sent Friday afternoon, GOOD Morning Wilton spoke with Smith.

“Smarter Balanced informed Connecticut [Thursday] night that they would not be ready to begin the testing as scheduled on March 18, that it would need to be pushed back until the following Tuesday, March 25. This morning we were informed that the testing window had shifted. However, we’re not so sure that March 25 is a good time to start testing. The testing window would then bump up against April vacation, and we don’t want students starting a test before the vacation and stopping to pick it up again after vacation. We are going to re-look at our testing schedules to see about testing later in April, or perhaps even in May. We haven’t had time to make that decision yet.”

According to Smith, at the local, Wilton level, this decision was not linked to recent controversies surrounding the Common Core curriculum, including extended legislative hearings last week in Hartford.

What’s more, SBAC testing has caused some consternation among parents of high school juniors who felt time would be better spent on in-class learning rather than on taking standardized assessments, especially in such close proximity to AP, SAT and ACT testing periods.

Smith said the decision to delay testing had more to do with the Smarter Balance scheduling hitch–however, those conflicts with other exams will affect when the SBAC will be rescheduled for those juniors.

“The fact of the matter is, for the juniors they’ve already completed their high school requirements by taking the CAPT last year, so [the SBAC assessments] won’t affect anything regarding graduation. The high school is looking more towards [rescheduling the SBAC] in May because most of the AP exams will be finished by then.”

That timing won’t work, however, for Middlebrook or Cider Mill.

“They need a longer testing window. The high school is only testing juniors; Middlebrook and Cider Mill have to test all of their students, and if they don’t start until May, they won’t finish by June 6, which is the deadline. We are thinking grades 3-8 will start sometime in April, but we have not met to finalize anything and these are not final decisions. We’ll meet this week sometime to decide.”

As soon as those decisions are made about changes to the testing schedule, each school will notify parents accordingly, Smith said.

Just What Is the SBAC?

Along with the Wilton Schools’ shift to the Common Core curriculum, the district’s students will now take the SBAC, a standardized assessment test adopted by 26 of the 50 states. As this is the first year the test will be administered, many parents have asked if it counts; they’ve also wondered if it will accurately assess students’ abilities.

“This is a field test. In some respects, it’s a ‘test to test the test.’ We’re not sure what sort of information we’ll be getting back on individual student performance. Based on the results, certain items may have to be eliminated–it’s part of the test development process. Because of that we’re not sure if there will be sufficient items in order to make reliable and valid judgements about student performance. It’s unclear what sort of information we’ll be getting back. Because of that no one will be using that information to make important decisions about children.  In a sense it doesn’t count, but we are being held to the same standard for participation, which means we are required to test at least 95 percent of our students in all of the grades that the state requires that we test students, which is grades 3-8 and 11,” Smith explained.

Like all the schools in CT, Wilton’s schools are required to administer the tests in order to qualify for state and federal funding.

But not all parents are happy with the SBAC or the change in assessment methods. Smith said that some parents have asked about have their children refrain from taking the test.

“We have had a couple, to my knowledge, who have requested to opt out. Our guidance from the state is to explain to parents that it’s not an option for us to opt children out. We’re not going to physically force anybody to take the test. But we are not going to offer an opt-out option, and we’re not going to offer alternative assignments or arrangements for those students. Again, because we’re being held to the requirements of participation.”

So what would happen if Wilton didn’t test the required number of students?

“It’s not clear what the sanctions would be for a school district like Wilton,” Smith said. “It might affect us, because we get some Title I and Title II funds from the federal government. They haven’t said that they would take that money away, but it’s always mentioned when we ask about the consequences of not participating. For some school districts that can involve a very significant amount of money. We don’t get an insignificant amount, but we certainly don’t get the level of Title I funding that Bridgeport, Stamford or Norwalk get.”

He acknowledged the concerns some parents have.

“I think change is difficult. But I do believe in the long term we will come to a better place in terms of assessment, and I just hope that people would bear with us during these growing pains. I think the students will find this test to be engaging and challenging, and I’m confident that Wilton students will do well on it. I hope people will avail themselves of the opportunity to participate.”