Seattle School Board members voted against considering a last-minute proposal to suspend new Common Core-related tests Wednesday evening, citing concerns about how quickly the resolution arose.
A last-minute proposal to suspend new Common Core tests in Seattle didn’t make it onto the School Board agenda Wednesday evening, but the idea may not be dead.
Board members voted 4-3 against adding a resolution to their agenda that would propose suspending new standardized tests aligned to the Common Core learning standards. When voting against the resolution, some members said their concerns weren’t with the idea of suspending the tests, but with how quickly the resolution arose.
“I think it’s an important conversation to have,” board member Harium Martin-Morris said before voting against an agenda change that would have allowed the board to discuss suspending the tests, then take action at a future meeting. “My real concern is on the timing of this motion.”
School Board member Sue Peters filed the resolution late Monday evening, and it was made public Tuesday. Students in Washington are scheduled to take the tests, called Smarter Balanced, this spring. The tests will measure student progress in math and language arts under the new Common Core learning standards that most states, including Washington, are now using.
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After the meeting Wednesday, Peters said she now plans to propose the resolution through the board’s normal process, which would require vetting by a committee.
Peters and her co-sponsor, School Board member Betty Patu, say the tests are designed to be unusually difficult and are not a fair assessment of students’ abilities.
“If you’ve got a test where the test-makers themselves are predicting failure rates across the board of 60 percent or more, then something is clearly wrong,” Peters said before the meeting. “Either the test isn’t ready, or the students aren’t ready.”
Peters pointed to results from last year’s national field test of the Smarter Balanced exams, which suggest that across all grade levels, roughly 30 to 40 percent of students had adequate skills in reading and math.
Passage rates on Washington’s old standardized tests were much higher. Last year, between 55 and 60 percent of students passed the state math exam, and roughly 70 to 80 percent passed in reading.
Peters suggested waiting to give the test until students and teachers have more time to become familiar with the new standards, which Washington adopted in 2011. In the meantime, she said, the district could report scores from other standardized tests to comply with federal law that requires annual testing.
State schools chief Randy Dorn cautioned the Seattle School Board against suspending the exams in a statement Wednesday, just as he did last week when Seattle’s Nathan Hale High School announced it would boycott the same test for its 11th-graders.
Dorn says federal funding could be at stake, because 11th-grade scores on the test must be reported to the U.S. Department of Education.
But the Seattle teachers’ union supports suspending the exams.
Some families brought signs to Wednesday’s meeting that said, “Too much testing,” and “Suspend SBAC” — the acronym of the consortium that coordinated the writing of the exams. Applause broke out several times when the Nathan Hale boycott was mentioned.
School Board President Sherry Carr said the board should have a conversation about how much standardized testing is too much for students.
“I just don’t believe it’s one that we can have in the flurry of the next 14 days,” she said. “I think there’s far too many consequences in either direction to try to work it that quickly.”